The songbook editions in Sounding Spirit illustrate the significance of vernacular southern sacred music and document the central role of texts and textual communities in these genres’ emergence and persistence. Each volume’s bibliographic form, genre affiliations, and cultural context illuminate its negotiation of race, place, religion, and modernity.

The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs (1875)
Edited by Sandra Jean Graham

Jubilee Songs cover image
Jubilee Songs (1872).

J. B. T. Marsh’s volume The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs (1875) is a significant early edition of the pioneering compilation of spirituals sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers first published as Jubilee Songs (1872). Marsh’s 1875 edition was the first to include spirituals transcribed by Jubilee singer, accompanist, and assistant director Ella Sheppard. Printed after competing ensembles began mimicking the Fisk Singers’ sounds and strategies, this edition’s contents reflect the presence of the Hampton Institute singers in the Jubilee-singing landscape. By the early twentieth century, spirituals formed a major stream of American folk music, due in part to the visibility of the Fisk Jubilee singers. Near-annual editions of Jubilee Songs sold over 130,000 copies into the early twentieth century. Its solo and four-part a cappella settings popularized songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” and “Go Down, Moses.”

Featured in Sounding Spirit as a watershed publication marking the transition of spirituals from oral tradition to a print-based, mass cultural phenomenon, The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs documents a pivotal turn in southern sacred music. Foundational to the American popular music landscape, spirituals emerged as a form of black cultural expression in the antebellum South before their adaptation to a performance context. The critical digital and print editions of The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs will provide opportunity for rich engagement with this landmark text and its communities of use that span colorlines, class markers, and geographic boundaries.

Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888)
Edited by Kevin D. Kehrberg and Stephen Shearon

Class, Choir, and Congregation cover image
Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888).

Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888) marks the transition from early nineteenth-century dispersed-harmony shape-note books to the gospel songbooks popular in the early decades of the twentieth century. A commercial success, Class, Choir, and Congregation sold 400,000 copies during its first twenty-five years in print. Editor A. J. Showalter of Dalton, Georgia, championed gospel music’s radical transformation in form, content, and context. His eponymous music publishing company sold millions of songbooks that pioneered the softbound, octavo-sized, annual new book publications that transformed the textual landscape of southern vernacular music and its communities of use. Class, Choir, and Congregation and other Showalter publications later influenced gospel’s transformation from a practice driven by singing schools, convention networks, and music education to one buoyed by traveling quartets and radio shows.

Featured in Sounding Spirit as prime example of the transitional era of early gospel music, Class, Choir, and Congregation demonstrates how texts both created and responded to its users’ negotiation of race, place, religion, and culture in an emergent modern context. The source of classic gospel hymns such as “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and “One by One We’ll All Be Gathered Home” that remain popular among white, black, and Native American congregations from a variety of denominations, Class, Choir, and Congregation demonstrates the intersections of traditions and singers often represented as discrete.

Original Sacred Harp (1911)
Edited by Jesse P. Karlsberg

Original Sacred Harp cover image
Original Sacred Harp (1911).

Original Sacred Harp (1911) was the most widely adopted of competing early-twentieth-century editions of The Sacred Harp, a seminal shape-note tunebook first published in 1844. In the mid-nineteenth century The Sacred Harp was the most commonly found book in southern households aside from the Bible, sustaining diverse communities who incorporated the text into both church and convention settings. Edited by an Atlanta-based committee of Sacred Harp singers and prominent New South boosters, Original Sacred Harp pairs 578 songs with twelve pages of introductory material and a twenty-six-page pedagogical “rudiments of music” section. At the turn of the twentieth century, while white southerners memorialized the Civil War and antebellum period, large, interdenominational singing conventions promoted Sacred Harp singing as a way of embracing and connecting to a contested past. Original Sacred Harp became the centerpiece of a popular participatory singing practice that persisted despite watershed changes in music performance and culture reshaping the modernizing New South.

Featured in Sounding Spirit to exemplify connections in shape-note singing between music genre, notation system, and bibliographic form, this critical edition of Original Sacred Harp demonstrates how its compilers and communities of use negotiated and leveraged race, place, music, and culture in the modernizing South. In addition to making key scholarly interventions, the critical digital and print editions of Original Sacred Harp will document history relevant to the contemporary shape-note singing community, including those across the United States and beyond who participate in singings and conventions featuring the book’s successor (The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition).