Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Age of Sacred Harp Conventions

The first decade of the 21st century sees three Sacred Harp Conventions turning 150 years old. First, in 2002, was the birthday of the Chattahoochee Musical Convention in Georgia. Then in 2005 the East Texas Convention in Texas. This year will be the Southeast Convention in Alabama. The Southeast Convention (org. ca 1858) is "the oldest Alabama singing assembly still in existence." (The Sacred Harp, Cobb, p. 139)

The following 33 conventions are over 100 years old. I have listed them as to their last meeting location, but a few of them are "traveling conventions" that move from place to place by invitation. These ages I have based on reports in minute books, without bothering to try and confirm all of them (I don't have time to do that right now) -- so I'm putting circa in front of them. On some of them I know the year, but it is easier to put "ca" in front of all of them some they'll line up! :-) Most of these dates have probably not been addressed in scholarly research. That doesn't mean they're inaccurate. The main point is not to give the exact date of the organization of these conventions, but rather to illustrate the age of the Sacred Harp movement and demonstrate the tenacity of these old conventions hanging on.

1852 Chattahoochee Musical Convention - GA
1855 East Texas Convention - TX
1858 Southeast Convention - AL

ca. 1866 Boiling Springs Convention - AL
ca. 1867 West Florida Convention - FL
ca. 1868 Union Musical Convention - GA
ca. 1868 Alpharetta Singing - GA
ca. 1872 Hillabee Convention - AL
ca. 1872 Chafin-Harbinson-Hollis Memorial - AL
ca. 1873 Holmes Valley Convention - FL
ca. 1877 Calhoun County Musical Association - MS
ca. 1880 Henry County Convention - AL
ca. 1881 Chickasaw County Convention - MS
ca. 1888 Central Music Convention - AL
ca. 1888 Cotaco Convention - AL
ca. 1889 Cleburne County Convention - AL
ca. 1890 Covington County Convention - AL
ca. 1892 Mount Zion Memorial - GA
ca. 1893 Spring Hill Convention - FL
ca. 1899 Alabama State Convention - AL
ca. 1899 Fayette County Convention - AL
ca. 1900 Dale County Convention - AL
ca. 1900 Middle Creek Convention - AL
ca. 1900 Southwest Texas Convention - TX
ca. 1903 Bulger and Cockcroft Memorial - AL
ca. 1903 Lookout Mountain Convention - AL
ca. 1903 Mt. Pisgah Singing Society - AL
ca. 1904 United Sacred Harp Musical Association - GA/AL
ca. 1905 Mount Ebron Memorial Singing - AL
ca. 1905 Mulberry River Convention - AL
ca. 1906 Nix-Keeton-McGough Memorial - AL

Two others that need explanation.
Elmore Center Singing - AL
B. F. White Interstate Convention - GA

The Elmore Center singing is somewhat of an anomaly, listed as starting around 1844. This listing has continued with little notice or mention within a community that consistently recognizes that the Southern Musical Convention (organized in 1845) was the first Sacred Harp convention, and that the Chattahoochee Musical Convention (organized in 1852) is the oldest surveying Sacred Harp singing convention. I am not sure on what the Elmore Center singing date is based.

The B. F. White Interstate Convention (or B. F. White Memorial Convention) in Decatur GA, though not mentioned thusly in recent minutes, in the past listed its sessions according to an 1845 organization date -- claiming itself as the successor to the Southern Musical Convention. The White family connection lends credibility to this claim, but the convention itself is a different organization than the Southern Musical Convention.

Often there is inconsistency and/or complexity in reporting the age/sessions of a convention. I can't speak for other conventions, but I'll use the East Texas Convention as an example. This year's East Texas Convention is the 151st Annual, 140th consecutive, but our 153rd anniversary -- OR something like that!

The Convention was organized in 1855, hence the 153rd anniversary. There have been approximately 151 annual sessions (based on missing 3 or 4 sessions during the War), but this is the 140th (so labeled, but actually 141st) consecutive session -- assuming 1868, the first year with a record, was the first year they started back after the War. And assuming that they did meet on the few years for which there is record in the succeeding years after 1868.

Despite the need to clarify some things about the ages of these Sacred Harp conventions, the thing to notice is the number of conventions with a history that extends over 100 years. Sacred Harp has long-standing traditions and a very interesting history.

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