Lomax’s Sacred Harp recordings inducted to Library of Congress

By on April 8, 2011

The Alan Lomax Archive is pleased to announce that Lomax’s 1959 recordings
of the United Sacred Harp Convention are among this year’s 25 inductions
to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.


Alan Lomax characterized the folk polyphony that he recorded at the 1959
convention of the United Sacred Harp Musical Association as “choral music
for a nation of individualists.” About 150 Southern shape-note singers
ranging in age from under 10 to over 90 participated in the annual
convention, held in Fyffe, Alabama, singing from The Sacred Harp, a hymnal
written in so-called “shape notes.” This nineteenth-century notational
system was originally devised to teach untrained singers to harmonize more
fluently, but it also enabled the creation of invigorating and complex
pieces sung in four parts by participants seated around a square, thus
creating the multi-directional cascades of voices heard on these

The future of the tradition was very much in doubt when these recordings
were made. Lomax and others had earlier documented Sacred Harp convention
singing on monophonic discs, and smaller ensembles had been recorded by
commercial companies in the 1920s, but these stereo tape recordings were
the first to capture the music’s full vigor and complexity. The
dissemination of the recordings helped
preserve and revitalize this uniquely American form both inside and
outside of their original communities — it is currently enjoying an
international renaissance.
Download link to two of the 1959 Sacred Harp recordings , recently
released in the Southern Journey 1959–1960 series on Alan Lomax Archive’s
Global Jukebox imprint (as digital downloads) and Mississippi Records (on

“Hallelujah” (#146 in The Sacred Harp)
From “Worried Now, Won’t Be Worried Long.” (GJ 1002 / MR 58)

“Calvary” (#300)
From “I’ll Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down.” (GJ 1004 / MR 60)

In 1982, Lomax visited the Holly Springs Sacred Harp Convention in Holly
Springs, Georgia, this time with eight-track stereo tape and four
“quad-split” video cameras to capture an even more complete document of
the thunderous quality of the singing.

“Abbeville” (#33):


Author: DaveHHM

Dave Luttrull: Owner/Editor in Chief of Hellhound Music. Star Wars nerd, Gamer, Destiny homer, blogger, writer and lover of all things music.