Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Soul-Filling Sound of Sacred Harp Music

If you enjoyed Awake, My Soul, the recently aired documentary on Sacred Harp singing (also known as shape-note, or fasola, singing), then be sure to tune in to Public Radio International's Sound and Spirit this Sunday, December 3. Host Ellen Kushner will be featuring "shape-note singing from the Sacred Harp and other collections of American mountain folk hymns," as well as "concert music from American composers inspired by this rough and ready American hymnody."

Sacred Harp singers are very knowledgeable about the history and traditions of their music, and the web has many good sites on this distinctly American musical form. Poke around for just a little while and you'll notice the names Buell E. Cobb Jr. and John Bealle appearing repeatedly in resource listings about shape-note music. Cobb is the author of THE SACRED HARP: A TRADITION AND ITS MUSIC and Beall is the author of PUBLIC WORSHIP, PRIVATE FAITH: SACRED HARP AND AMERICAN FOLKSONG.

Praised by American Music as a "thoroughly researched 'inside' view," Buell Cobb's book is an ideal introduction to Sacred Harp singing. John Bealle asks why one particular hymnal, The Sacred Harp, first published in 1844, has outlived so many other shape-note song collections. To help explain the songbook's enduring popularity, Bealle studies it in the context of a century and a half of American musical history. As the Alabama Review wrote, PUBLIC WORSHIP, PRIVATE FAITH "brims with insights on a variety of topics."


Awake, My Soul producer Matt Hinton was interviewed on the 11/10/06 editon of Georgia Gazette by host Rickey Bevington. Listen to it on the web. Interview begins at 14:33 into the show.

The New Georgia Encyclopedia's article on Sacred Harp singing.

Great photos of contemporary shape-note singing on the Flickr Fasola pool.

A Sacred Harp FAQ.

Some shape-note lyrics understandably have become a bit archaic or obscure over time. Here's a lexical companion that sheds light on words, phrases, and references in a number of songs.


Top left: Poster for the documentary Awake, My Soul.

Top right: Cover of John Bealle's PUBLIC WORSHIP, PRIVATE FAITH.

Bottom left: Cover of Buell E. Cobb Jr's THE SACRED HARP.

Bottom right: Some lines of music showing distinctive "shape notes": triangle (fa), a circle (sol), a rectangle (la), and a diamond (mi). Courtesy of Atlanta Sacred Harp Singers.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Short Takes

Mrs. Dull's SOUTHERN COOKING was recently featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The piece quotes another of our authors, Nathalie Dupree. Damon Lee Fowler also gets a nod. Fowler, whose foodie pursuits include a column in the Savannah Morning News, wrote the foreword to our edition of Mrs. Dull's classic cookbook.

Philadelphia Weekly has
interviewed Greg Downs, author of SPIT BATHS: "A childhood split among central Kentucky, Nashville, and Hawaii gave Downs a rare sense of how location and history shape people. His characters devour biographies, attend politicians' funerals, chaperone field trips, latch onto outmoded street names, unearth secrets about dead presidents and watch chain stores gobble up small towns." Here's another interview with Greg at LitPark, and a profile at Nashville Scene. All Greg, all the time, at MySpace.

Which is more rare: A great album or a great review of an album? Frank Kogan, author of
REAL PUNKS DON'T WEAR BLACK, has the answer in this Blogcritics interview.

Our bloggin' authors: Meet "
Madam Mayo," better known to us as C. M. Mayo, author of SKY OVER EL NIDO. When she's not bloggificationizing, Mayo writes and edits and champions literature in translation.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mother of the "Daughter of the Confederacy"

Novelist Julia Oliver has been spending a lot of time in bookstores signing her new novel DEVOTION. It's about Winnie Davis and her deep ambivalence over the celebrity that surrounded her as the "Daughter of the Confederacy." It had to be difficult being a child of someone as controversial as Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. Imagine, on top of that, being anointed by an adoring public as keeper of the flame for the Lost Cause.

Not long after Oliver hit the road to promote Devotion, another book about the Davis family women began showing up on store shelves:
First Lady of the Confederacy by historian Joan E. Cashin. A biography, it focuses on Varina Davis, Winnie's mother. Here again the theme of ambivalence arises: over the war, celebrity, and the price of loyalty (or devotion, as Oliver puts it).

Praise for Julia Oliver's Devotion:

"A sharp, endearing account . . . Oliver's sure hand is evident on every page of this slim, lyrical novel"--Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Recommended . . . Will appeal to those who like their historical fiction served up in the style of the day."--Library Journal

"This well-researched novel offers much detail of the era and profiles of historic personages that include Joseph Pulitzer."--Kirkus Reviews

"An extraordinary, compelling tour de force: wise, hard-nosed, and not the least bejasmined or fraught with Confederate or Victorian nostalgia."--First Draft

"An elegant, poetic, and deeply moving tribute to the Davis family, and especially to the long-neglected women of that tragic clan. Anyone who loves the story of the South owes her a gesture of thanks."--Howard Bahr, author of The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War

Beauvoir, the last home of Jefferson Davis, and a pivotal setting in Devotion, was badly damaged in Hurricane Katrina.

Much more information about the Davis family can be found at the Papers of Jefferson Davis project.

Top left: Jacket of Julia Oliver's novel Devotion

Bottom left: Portrait of Varina Davis, 1849

Right: Portrait of Winnie Davis on a postcard lauding her as the "Daughter of the Confederacy"