National Sacred Harp Convention

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The National Sacred Harp Singing Convention is an annual convention of "shape note" singers which began at Samford University in 1980. More recent conventions have been hosted by First Christian Church at 4954 Valleydale Road. In 2008 the event drew 623 singers from 26 states and from the United Kingdom. Groups of singers from the convention have appeared several times at City Stages, which takes place on the same weekend.

Contemporary shape note singers use a hymnal, The Sacred Harp, which employs shaped notes to facilitate teaching the songs to untrained singers. Though the shape note system originated in the early 1700s in New England, the tradition has been preserved primarily in the rural South. The Sacred Harp, a hymnal published in Hamilton, Georgia in 1844, is the most popular compendium of tunes, which are each used for any of several hymns. The hymnal was revised in 1911, 1936 and 1991. Another version, compiled in 1902 created a divergence of styles within the tradition. Both styles are marked by sharp cadences and austere harmonies. The tradition is also closely identified with an egalitarian spirit in which all are encouraged to participate. Different voice ranges are typically arranged around an open square. Most gatherings feature a generous potluck lunch.

The singing style experienced a revival in popularity in recent decades and was featured in the 2003 film Cold Mountain.


  • Cobb, Buell (1978) The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music.
  • Crowe, Christina (September 21, 2006) "Vox Populi:The egalitarian world of Sacred Harp singing." Black & White
  • Crowe, Christina (May 28, 2009) "Singing Songs about the Southland." Black & White
  • Huebner, Michael (June 14, 2009) "Sacred Harp syllables take shape at National Convention in Birmingham, Ala." Birmingham News
  • Garrison, Greg (June 19, 2009) "Sacred harp singers gather for national convention in Birmingham, Alabama." Birmingham News

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