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Even as a small child, I sang Sacred Harp... after all, it was in my blood!
I come from a long line of Sacred Harp singers and have passed the tradition on to my girls, who will eventually pass it on to their children.
I grew up in a small town, Rome, Georgia. My parents took me to Mount Olive Baptist Church, where Sacred Harp was the only music sung in their services. Mount Olive was founded by kinfolk from various towns on Sand Mountain (in northeast Alabama) who moved to Rome in the 1940's and 1950's to find work. My mother's father was a founding deacon and my own father served as pastor for many years until his death in 1978. It is still a small church with strong family ties and Sacred Harp traditions.
Back then, Mount Olive belonged to the Original Mount Pleasant Association, a small association of churches primarily in Alabama, churches very familiar to Sacred Harp singers...Liberty, Antioch, and Shady Grove. Many of my Alabama relatives attended the Alabama churches. Throughout my childhood, Mount Olive and these churches would have annual all-day singings...a tradition that continues to this day. Even though the Association disbanded after I was grown, due to close family relationships, many of us still sing and worship together.
My "singing bloodline" derives from the same core family as some of the most well known singer families in our area. Once a year, descendants of my mother's great-grandfather and great-grandmother (known in singing circles simply as "The Haynes family") gather at New Canaan Baptist Church in Dutton, AL, for a family reunion. The reunion always was (and still is) a Sacred Harp all-day singing.
I often remember the church being so full that many would have to stand. Everyone would sing. It seemed that you could not be a Haynes descendant and not sing. It just welled up in your soul and had to come out. Most sang from memory, and it came straight from the heart. If it felt good, it always sounded good... and it usually felt good! You can view a clip of one of these family reuions on the Sacred Harp documentary "Sweet is the Day," featuring the Wootten family...one of those famous kindred families I mentioned. The Haynes reunion is well know and has had visitors from several universities over the years.
Speaking of families, my mother had a younger sister in Rome. They were very close, so we often gathered together in one home or the other for dinner. The five girl cousins always had to clean the kitchen while the grownups talked. While washing and drying dishes, we sang Sacred Harp. The five of us girls and our families continue to gather often and sing.
Thanks to an invitation from singer Tim Eriksen, one of those five cousins (Darlene Dalton) sang beside Nicole Kidman and Darlene's son Tim sang by Jude Law during a documentary special for the premier of "Cold Mountain" on the Arts & Entertainment (A&E) Network. Darlene had met and sung with Tim Eriksen in Minnesota, where she lived and sang with a local group for over a year.
Sacred Harp music has always been a big part of my life. With the exception of prayer, it is the sweetest way to express my spirituality. There were many things that I had to give up when I moved to the Savannah area. I am so thankful that Sacred Harp was not one of them. The Savannah Sacred Harp singers are not only a talented group; they also represent the Southern charm and hospitality that I grew up knowing. I found the group while searching the internet for the nearest all-day singing. I was delighted to find not only an all-day singing, but monthy and and occasional weekly singings right here in Savannah.