Folklore's Filter: Race, Place, and Sacred Harp Singing Open Access

Karlsberg, Jesse P. (2015)

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This dissertation examines the impact of folklorization on Sacred Harp's associations with race and place. Although The Sacred Harp tunebook features music with racially diverse origins whose composers span a vast geography, scholars in the twentieth century came to associate the tunebook with Anglo-Celtic whiteness and the southern upcountry of the United States, regarding its black singers as exceptional.

I trace this perception of Sacred Harp's race and place to George Pullen Jackson's German Romanticism-inspired desire to identify a Scotch-Irish American folk music and to racial and institutional pressures limiting John W. Work III's research on Sacred Harp. The racing and placing of Sacred Harp thanks to what I call "folklore's filter" influenced white folk festival promoters who rediscovered Work's depiction of black Sacred Harp singing in the 1960s and 1970s and attempted to stage racially mixed groups of Sacred Harp singers as evidence of progress toward racial unity.

Sacred Harp singers negotiated these narratives and popular conceptions of the style in revising The Sacred Harp tunebook during the twentieth century. For the tunebook's editors in the 1910s and 1980s, reimagining the music, design, and bibliographic form of The Sacred Harp offered an opportunity to hash out anxieties about social change by trying to present this old music as relevant to contemporaneous practitioners. The ramifications of Sacred Harp's whitewashing persist today, informing a narrative of Sacred Harp singing in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries that emphasizes the growth of a predominantly white "revival" of Sacred Harp singing in the wake of the folk music movement. This genealogy excludes vital networks of black shape-note gospel singings unrecognizable as Sacred Harp through folklore's filter.

This account of Sacred Harp's print history and passage through folklore's filter illuminates connections between music's print culture and the networks and social movements in which it is embedded. The Sacred Harp and its singings and singers offer an opportunity to explore links between music's dynamic vernacular print culture and its circulation and reception and to analyze the interactions between the civil rights movement, the folk music movement, and the diverse populations they engaged.

Table of Contents

Introduction • 1
Sacred Harp Singing • 3
Studying Sacred Harp and Related Shape-note Singing 11
Vernacular Publishing and Folklore's Filter: A Look Ahead 21

Chapter 1. Musically Conservative and "Materially Modern": Social Politics of Shape-note Genres and Book Production Technology in the 1911 Original Sacred Harp • 25
Introduction 25
Musical Hybridity and Bibliographical Modernization in the Sacred Harp Revisions of Wilson Marion Cooper and James Landrum White 33
"Material Modern Improvement": Aesthetics of Contemporaneity in Joseph Stephen James's 1911 Original Sacred Harp 36
"All the Old Features": History and Religiosity in Original Sacred Harp 49
Contemporaneity and Conservatism in Original Sacred Harp's "Standard Melodies" 55
Sacred Harp Singing and the Anxieties of New South Boosterism 71
Conclusion 73

Chapter 2. Embracing the "Old" in "Old-Fogy": Musical Conservatism and Digital Retypesetting in the Revision of The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition • 75
Introduction 75
Erasure, Uniformity, and Modernity in Original Sacred Harp's Digital Retypesetting 78
Including Billings, Excluding Gospel, Embracing a National Imagined Textual Community: The 1991 Edition's Musical Conservatism 96
Old or "Old Fogy": Negotiating Sacred Harp's Associations with the Past 105
Gospel Publishers, Hand-Stenciling, and Digital Retypesetting in the Late Twentieth- and Early Twenty-first-century Revisions of the Cooper Book 112
Old-Fogy Vernacularity and "User Friendly" Digital Typesetting: Promoting Sacred Harp Singing in Texas, 1991-2012 118
Conclusion 124

Chapter 3. "For What Purpose We Do Not Know": Race, Folklore Genealogies, and the Study of Sacred Harp Singing in the Jim Crow Era • 127
Introduction 127
George Pullen Jackson and Folklore's German Romantic Filter 130
John W. Work III, Black Spirituals, and the Veil 142
Jackson's Vision of Black Sacred Harp Singing 154
"Deeply Rooted": Work on Black Sacred Harp Singing in the Alabama Wiregrass 170
Coda: "The Reception and Program of Jubilee Music … in Honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt" 178

Chapter 4. Staging Equality: Sacred Harp and Racial Disparity at Civil Rights Era Festivals and Field Sites • 181
Introduction 181
Folklore's Filter and the Social Imaginary 184
Selectively Staging the "Beloved Community" at the Newport Folk Festival 188
Shifting Racial Imaginaries in the Field: Negotiating Race and Recording in the Alabama Wiregrass 200
Conclusion 223

Chapter 5. Negotiating Race: Sacred Harp Singing and Folklore's Filter • 225
Introduction 225
Performing Desegregation and Equality on the National Mall 227
Facing Folklore's Filter: State Support of the Wiregrass Singers and Representing Black Sacred Harp Singing at the 1979 Rural Hymnody Symposium 243
"Other Harpers May Look with Disdain on this … 'Heresy'": Black Shape-note Singing outside Folklore's Filter 255

Conclusion • 265

Works Cited • 281

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