I Belong to This Band, Hallelujah!
Community, Spirituality, and Tradition among Sacred Harp Singers
The Sacred Harp choral singing tradition originated in the American South in the mid-nineteenth century, spread widely across the country, and continues to thrive today. Sacred Harp isn’t performed but participated in, ideally in large gatherings where, as the a cappella singers face each other around a hollow square, the massed voices take on a moving and almost physical power. I Belong to This Band, Hallelujah! is a vivid portrait of several Sacred Harp groups and an insightful exploration of how they manage to maintain a sense of community despite their members’ often profound differences.
Laura Clawson’s research took her to Alabama and Georgia, to Chicago and Minneapolis, and to Hollywood for a Sacred Harp performance at the Academy Awards, a potent symbol of the conflicting forces at play in the twenty-first-century incarnation of this old genre. Clawson finds that in order for Sacred Harp singers to maintain the bond forged by their love of music, they must grapple with a host of difficult issues, including how to maintain the authenticity of their tradition and how to carefully negotiate the tensions created by their disparate cultural, religious, and political beliefs.
“Laura Clawson’s study of Sacred Harp singing is expertly researched and elegantly written. She reveals a rich, roots-oriented musical world in which tradition, memory, and authenticity operate on a variety of levels, from the longstanding legacy of Sacred Harp to the local traditions of places from Sand Mountain, Alabama to the city of Chicago. Clawson wonderfully illustrates how modern people incorporate traditional folk culture into their everyday lives in this impressively detailed and beautiful book.”
“This is a lovely analysis of how cultural practices can tenuously tie people together, despite what others might view as the kinds of rifts in beliefs or identities that we often presume shape our cultural and political worlds. Clawson treats respondents from a very wide range of social, class, and regional positions with a straightforward thoughtfulness and humanity. This openness allows her to become highly attuned to the ways that various people have invested different kinds of meaning in Sacred Harp, only some of which surface in direct conversation while the rest manifest in practice.”
2 The South: Family and Community
3 The North: Tradition, Complications, and Change
4 Belief into Organization
5 Creating National Community
6 Going Hollywood
Notes Works Cited Index