Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Three Amigos

Into the 1980s, we had three East Texas Sacred Harp singers who had lived to be nonagenarians. They were all born in October of 1891 (two of them born on the 9th day of the month). They were B. A. Harry (1891-1984), David Waldrop (1891-1985) and Grady McLeod (1891-1988). In 1891, Benjamin Harrison was President of the United States and The Sacred Harp was in its 47th year. These three men were 12 years old at the time of the death of B.F. White’s son David. They probably knew him.

To me as a child, Grady McLeod was someone who stood out in the crowd – even though he wasn’t a very big man. He was the “youngster” of the three amigos by 19 days, born October 28. He was short, red of face with gold teeth and silvery white hair, and had an “affable” personality. He keyed music and sang high treble with the ladies. Among his favorite tunes was O Jesus, Ever With Us Stay in the Cooper Book. I never hear “fave thud-ee too” (page 532) called that I don’t think of Mr. McLeod and his unique Southern accent. His father and mother were born in Pike County, Alabama in 1858 and came to Texas before 1890. Born last, he lived the longest, dying at age 96 in 1988.

“Uncle David” Waldrop isn’t in my childhood memories as much as Mr. McLeod. However, as I grew older I came to think of him as one of the “neatest” people I knew. I wanted to talk to him whenever I could. He knew a lot about many subjects and had very interesting stories to tell. I think he served in both World Wars, and was a watch repairman (at least when I remember him). With the knowledge I have now, I wish I could go back and ask him about Sacred Harp in our area in his youth. Mr. Waldrop sang bass. The song I most often associate with him is 58, Pisgah, that old tune which he loved so very well. I also think of him when I hear 290 Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed/Victoria, and 275b Roll On. He comes to mind whenever I announce the singing at “Ooold Pine Grove.” While he was living he was usually the one to announce that singing. He had a unique way of drawing out the “ooold” that caught your attention. He continued his watch repair and driving a car until the time of his death, which occurred at age 93 as the result of a car wreck on March 3, 1985.

Of the three, I was least acquainted with Dr. Harry (I think he was a chiropractor). He exists only in my adult memories. In his elder years when he did not drive, his (also elderly) daughter was faithful to bring him to the singings. Dr. Harry sang tenor. I remember him most for the magnifying glass he used to see the print in his book and his disinterest in singing the notes. He had a philosophy that once you had learned to sing the notes on a song that you didn’t need to keep singing them every time you led (or sang) that song. This seemed strange to me – my Dad’s saying was “If you don’t sing the notes, it’s not Sacred Harp.” Later I would learn there was an area in East Texas whose singers had that in their background and training. Dr. Harry was the only one I remember still living who wasn’t “converted.” When Dr. Harry led, this trait of his always caused someone to ask (in good humor, I think) whether we would be singing the notes. Though he didn’t sing the notes, he DID sing all the words. Among his favorites was Sing to Me of Heaven (312) – which had plenty of stanzas. His long songs and long life ended in February 1984 at age 92.

At the time I didn’t really realize what a blessing we had to be able to know and sing with these men. Each was unique in his own way. They were old-time singers with a long history and stories to tell. Their lives intersected with some of the early leaders of Texas Sacred Harp. Not only do I miss them, but also it is with deep regret that I now know I didn’t fully appreciate what we had – and I didn't ask all the questions I should have asked. Oh, to have had them sitting at my side when I wrote the 150-year history of the East Texas Sacred Harp Convention. They had lived almost two-thirds of it!!

In every area of traditional Sacred Harp singing there were men and women like these. Folks who did not have received nationwide notice or acclaim. Folks who were essential elements of the performance and preservation of this music. May this brief story of “three amigos” not just be a story of three people you didn’t know. May it also be a reminder to be thankful for all those who have gone before us – known and unknown – those who have passed down a most beautiful repertoire of music as they shared their love for it.


Unknown said...

Nice! I might recommend that you share this on the discussions list, too.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks, Will.