Thursday, February 21, 2019

A. N. Whitten and the Harp of Ages

An Old Harper: A. N. Whitten and the Harp of Ages

In 1925 A. N. Whitten of Dublin, Texas compiled and presented a small seven-shape songbook titled Harp of Ages.[i]  Besides an interest in his music and songbook, I have a genealogical interest in the man Archibald Newton Whitten. My dad’s mother was a Whitten, but I have not been able to figure out where the families connect. Her people were Methodists and came to Texas from Tennessee via Missouri. His people were Baptists, and he was born in Georgia. Interestingly, the “Archibald” given name crops up over and over again in my Whitten family genealogy/history.

Archibald Newton Whitten was born in Georgia on March 16, 1856 to Andrew Jackson Whitten and Mary Ann Davis.[ii] His father was a Primitive Baptist preacher. A. N. was living in the household of his parents in Georgia in 1860 (Murray County) and 1870 (Mitchell County). He was living in Tallapoosa County, Alabama when the census was taken in 1880. He was a farm laborer living with his first wife Nancy Horsley and their two sons: Jonathan and Patrick.[iii] A letter referenced in A Portion for the Singers indicates Whitten had been teaching singing schools for 45 years, indicating he started around 1880 while still in Alabama.[iv] The family came to Texas in early 1894.[v] Inza (later Inez) was born in Texas in 1895. Nancy died sometime between that time and September 18, 1898, when A. N. married Rachel Florida Whitfield, daughter of John Miles Whitfield and Mary Jane Kinney. They had 3 children – Henrietta Bernice, Archibald Viron, and Gladys Wilma – before her untimely death February 15, 1906 at age 33.[vi]

After Rachel’s death, A. N. married Dora Finger Norton, daughter of Elder J. W. Norton and Nancy Caledonia Elliott.[vii] She had a daughter, Willie, from her previous marriage to Clark Moore.[viii] Dora and A. N. had three children, Archibald Newton Jr., Redford Cayce, and Winston Albion.

According to Drummond, A. N. Whitten helped Elder C. H. Cayce produce The Good Old Songs and then later disassociated with him.[ix] In a letter to the periodical Glad Tidings, Whitten gives this apology for his upcoming songbook: “We are aware of the fact there have been published several hymn and tune books for the Old Baptists; but none of these seem to satisfy a majority of Texas Baptists. I have in mind a book that I believe they would adopt in their church worship…” [x] The first Harp of Ages was a relatively small book published in 1925. It had approximately 160 pages, ending on song number 159.[xi] Like many song books of that period and before, Harp of Ages included “Rudiments of Music.”[xii] Apparently Whitten expanded the book a few times during his lifetime, and others did so after his death. His son Winston Albion Whitten published the book sometime after his father’s death in 1949, while he was living in Lake Charles, Louisiana. According to the Primitive Baptist Library, the “4th edition” has 191 hymns. It is not clear whether the 2nd and 3rd editions are also that size.[xiii] In 1971 Harp of Ages, Inc. was formed. This body published the 1973 and 1977 editions (about 416 songs/382 pages). These editions do not give edition numbers that could help clarify which edition was the last complied by Whitten – but likely it was the 4th edition.

A. N. Whitten was active in his local Primitive Baptist Church and associations. From currently available information it is not clear to me of which church he was a member – probably the one sometimes described as the Primitive Baptist Church in East Dublin. Whitten sent an announcement to paper of a protracted meeting at the Primitive Baptist Church in East Dublin, with Elder E. C. Mahurin.[xiv] The Dublin Progress reported his leading the singing at the Duffau Primitive Baptist Association held in De Leon in 1913.[xv] In 1938 A. N. Whitten was in charge of the song service at the “revival” at First Primitive Baptist Church in Dublin, with Elders J. C. Morgan and Len Dalton.[xvi] He announced to the Progress the meeting of the Old Harmony Primitive Baptist Association, July 11-14, 1940.[xvii]

Whitten frequently announced and/or was associated with singings mentioned in the Progress, some which included four-note books, Christian Harmony and “late books.”[xviii] With “Mr. Free of Abilene,” A. N Whitten taught a free Sacred Harp singing school at the Primitive Baptist Church in East Dublin in 1933.[xix] He was a leader in the Erath County Singing Convention, and was the local chairman of arrangements for the State Sacred Harp Association when it met in Dublin in 1938.[xx] In 1929 Progress Editor Francis E. Perry highlighted Whitten in his column “Wise, Unwise, and Otherwise,” noting him as “a citizen who not only writes songs but is a song publisher…” Perry mentions that Whitten has issued a new edition of Harp of Ages, lists songs that he wrote, and concludes by calling A. N. Whitten “one of the best loved citizens in this territory.”[xxi] In 1943 and 1944 The Dublin Progress published several letters in which A. N. Whitten recorded his “boyhood reminiscences.” Unfortunately, the online scans of most of these are quite hard to read.[xxii]

Elder M. W. Miracle began publishing The Sacred Harp Monitor in December 1912, under the auspices of the State Sacred Harp Association of Texas. In that issue, A. N. Whitten is listed as one of 12 associate editors, and there are two letters written to the paper from him. The October 1913 issue still listed him as such.[xxiii] Around 1915 Elder Miracle moved on to edit “The Good Old Songs Department” in C. H. Cayce’s periodical The Primitive Baptist. Whitten joined Miracle as part of the editorial staff of “The Good Old Songs Department.”[xxiv]

In 1917 A. N. Whitten was the vice-president of the State Sacred Harp Singing Association of Texas, and then served as president in 1918, 1919, and 1920. Some records indicate singings in Erath County that used both the Sacred Harp and Harp of Ages.[xxv] Two songs in The Sacred Harp, 2012 Cooper Edition, came from Harp of Ages (added to The Sacred Harp book in 1992) – Eden of Love, 39 and John 4:14, 133.[xxvi]

Archibald Newton Whitten died August 18, 1949 at the Dublin Hospital in Dublin, Texas at age 93. His cause of death was prostate cancer. His “usual occupation” is listed as farming (he may have derived a minor income from his songbook and teaching singing schools). He, Dora, and several other family members are buried at the Live Oak Cemetery in Dublin (at the time of his death called New Dublin Cemetery).[xxvii] The newspaper reported that he died “after several weeks’ illness” and that the funeral services were held at the First Baptist Church “with Rev. R. V. Sorrells (sic) of Abilene officiating.” The paper described A. N. Whitten as “well known in Dublin and the surrounding communities and has many friends here who extend their sincerest sympathy to the bereaved relatives.”[xxviii]

Paul Drummond’s assessment of the Harp of Ages, musically, is that the largest percentage of songs are folk hymns and Sacred Harp songs – 51 percent. He adds that almost 25 percent “may be categorized as Gospel Songs.” By “Gospel Songs” he means songs from what he considers the Kieffer/Showalter tradition, the Sankey/Bliss tradition, and the Stamps-Baxter tradition. He does not indicate how he categorizes the roughly other 24 percent. Other categories Drummond uses in A Portion for the Singers are Mason/Bradbury hymns, Traditional Protestant hymns, and original hymn-settings by Primitive Baptists. The songs written by A. N. Whitten would fall in this latter category, but possibly some of the other categories as well.[xxix]

There is no date in the Harp of Ages book that I have, but it was published in 1946 or later. Number 61 is a song titled It Must Have Been at Easter Time Long Ago (The Model Church), and is dated 1946. Whitten sent the words in to the Progress and they were printed in it April 19, 1946.[xxx] I counted the pages in this book; the song numbers are not page numbers. There are 192 total pages – the cover page and rudiments, pages 1-12; songs numbered 1-191 (with some “As” and “1/2s” in the page numbers), but actually 178 pages; finally, 2 unnumbered pages of Index.

By my count, the Harp of Ages credits 16 songs to A. N. Whitten, plus nine more that he arranged or harmonized and 3 Sacred Harp tunes to which he added alto. In addition, Francis Perry lists a song titled Leave Me Alone among those written by A. N. Whitten.[xxxi] The books I own do not have a song by that title in their indices. The accurate title is Leave Me Not Alone, which was removed and replaced by It Must Have Been at Easter Time Long Ago. Songs from Harp of Ages have found their way into other books, such as the two mentioned above (Eden of Love and John 4:14). Balm in Gilead from the 1973 Harp of Ages is included in The Shenandoah Harmony.

Whitten’s Harp of Ages songbook achieved its greatest success in his home state of Texas. Drummond indicates it found a home as well in churches in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, and California.[xxxii] The book still has a following, not only among Primitive Baptist churches that still use it, but also among Sacred Harp singers introduced to it at the Saturday Night Social of the Southwest Texas Sacred Harp Convention. It has a number of original tunes that are not available elsewhere.[xxxiii] Nevertheless, its use will be limited and constricted because it is no longer in print and a reprint seems unlikely.


  • A Portion for the Singers: A History of Music Among Primitive Baptists Since 1800 by Robert Paul Drummond, Atwood, TN: Christian Baptist Library & Publishing Co., 1989
  • Gaylon Powell, e-mail
  • Harp of Ages, A. N. Whitten, Dublin, Texas, no date
  • Harp of Ages, A. N. Whitten, Harvey L. Bass, Afton E. Richards, Muleshoe, TX: Harp of Ages, Inc., 1977
  • Primitive Baptist Library web site
  • The Dublin Progress newspaper, Dublin, Texas, May 19, 1905—August 19, 1939
  • The Sacred Harp Monitor, M. W. Miracle, Dallas, Texas, December 1912 and October 1913
PDF, 1973 edition of the Harp of Ages

[i] A few songs in the book are printed in 4 staves and 4 shapes. See, for example, Let Us Sing, song number 120.
[ii] Some sources give “Head” as her maiden name, but I believe this is in error. Andrew Jackson Whitten was married twice, first to Ann Head, and second to Mary Ann Davis in 1850. A. N. Whitten’s death certificate gives the maiden name of his mother as “Davis” and the date of A. J.’s marriage to Mary Ann Davis would confirm this is correct. Archibald Newton Whitten
[iii] He married Nancy November 8, 1877 in Tallapoosa County.
[iv] Portion, Drummond, p. 169
[v] The children of Archibald and Nancy include Jonathan, Patrick, Mary Lucinda, Kieffer, Grover W., Samuel Cicero, and Inza/Inez.
[vi] Rachel Florida Whitfield Whitten; sometimes the middle name of the son “Viron” is given/spelled as “Vernon.”
[viii] The 1910 census indicates she also had lost a child in addition to the two living, Willie Moore and A. N., Jr.
[ix] “We are under many obligations to Brother A. N. Whitten, of Dublin, Texas, for the great help he has been to us in the preparation of the work.” – “Preface,” C. H. Cayce, The Good Old Songs, 1913, p. 3
[x] Letter to the editors of Glad Tidings, November 1, 1922, cited in Drummond, p. 168.
[xi] E-mail from Gaylon Powell, February 15, 2019
[xii] Harp of Ages, pages 3-12.
[xiii]Listing of Our Holdings of Primitive Baptist Periodicals and Hymnals”; the 191 page book that I have includes the song It Must Have Been at Easter Time Long Ago, which was written in 1946. Perhaps this was the 4th edition; I suspect earlier books also ended on song 191, and that the song number 61 was substituted for another song. The text of this 1946 song was sent in to The Dublin Progress and printed on the front page April 19, 1946.
[xiv] The Dublin Progress, Friday, April 23, 1937, p. 1
[xv] The Dublin Progress, Friday, August 22, 1913, p. 5
[xvi] The Dublin Progress, Friday, June 3, 1938, p. 1; It is not clear whether First Primitive Baptist was using the term “revival,” or if that terminology was chosen by the newspaper.
[xvii] The Dublin Progress, Friday, July 5, 1940, p. 1
[xviii] The Dublin Progress, Friday, May 19, 1905, p. 8
[xix] The Dublin Progress, Friday, July 21, 1933, p. 3
[xx] The Dublin Progress, Friday, July 15, 1938, p. 1
[xxi] The Dublin Progress, Friday, August 18, 1939, p. 1
[xxii] In the August 20, 1943 issue of the Progress, Whitten describes “the old church yard,” “Elder William Hubbard…the old Cornfield Preacher,” and Old Brother Clinkscales who “takes charge of the song service.” Whitten mentions the church singing Promised LandHoly Manna, and Parting Hand. No doubt, this describes some of the earliest foundations and roots of his music. Whitten’s reminiscences are found at least in these issues: The Dublin Progress, Friday, June 25, 1943, p. 6; Friday, August 20, 1943, p. 6; Friday, October 8, 1943, p. 5; Friday, November 19, 1943, p. 4; Friday, December 10, 1943, p. 2; Friday, March 10, 1944, p. 5
[xxiii] The Sacred Harp Monitor, M. W. Miracle, Dallas, Texas, Volume 1, Number 1, December 1912; The Sacred Harp Monitor, M. W. Miracle, Dallas, Texas, Volume 1, Number 11, October 1913; these are the only two issues I have located.
[xxiv] Drummond, pp. 161-162, 165
[xxv] Including Drummond, p. 169; Also a Memorial Sacred Harp Singing held November 14, 1943 with The Sacred Harp and Harp of Ages – The Dublin Progress, Friday, November 12, 1943, p. 1.
[xxvi] John 4:14 in this Sacred Harp book is the original by Morris Nowlin rather than the revision/arrangement by Carolia Johnson printed in Harp of Ages in 1973. When the 1992 edition of the Cooper Book came out, I was given information on sources of all the tunes added to the book. John 4:14 was listed as an original composition by Morris Nowlin, rather than as coming from the Harp of Ages. I was told that this was because the song, as printed in the Cooper Book, was submitted by Brother Nowlin as originally written by him.
[xxvii] State of Texas Certificate of Death, Number 37999
[xxviii] The Dublin Progress, Friday, August 19, 1949, p. 1
[xxix] Drummond, pp. 168-169, 225-328; it appears that Drummond collated the edition with 191 numbered songs. He says it was probably released around 1946 (based on the song number 61).
[xxx] The Dublin Progress, Friday, April 19, 1946, p. 1
[xxxi] The Dublin Progress, Friday, August 18, 1939, p. 1
[xxxii] Drummond, p. 171
[xxxiii] Whitten’s tune From the Heavenly Choir (127) is an exquisite minor tune, in my opinion. No Vacant Seats in Heaven (74) combines well the doctrine of the preservation of the saints with a very nice tune by Whitten and Mrs. J. B. Edwards. How Sweet to Die (13) was written in memory of Elder S. A. Paine, incorporating his last words, “O, how sweet to die.”

1 comment:

R. L. Vaughn said...

I've never seen much work done on the history of A. N. Whitten and the Harp of Ages. This is a first stab for me, and will eventually need to be revised, corrected, and updated. I hope this "stab" might elicit the work of others in this same field.