UWG to Host African American Shape Note Singing Workshops

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia will host two programs on African American shape note singing on Saturday, March 19.

The programs are supported by a grant from the Georgia Humanities Council. Both are free to the public and will take place in the lower level of the Z-6 dining hall on the University of West Georgia campus.

The first workshop begins at 4 p.m. and features United Shape Note Singers. Attendees will have the opportunity to talk with members of the group about the history of shape note singing and the role it has played in their lives and communities. 

This afternoon workshop begins at 6:30 p.m. It will be of particular interest to music teachers and students in middle and high schools in the region.  The Center has produced resource materials for teachers and others interested in learning more about the tradition, available on the Center for Public History website at http://www.westga.edu/cph/index_16011.php.

Shape note singing is one of Georgia’s enduring sacred music traditions. While many are familiar with the Sacred Harp shape note singings that are abundant in the west Georgia region, many do not realize that a separate, vibrant tradition exists in African American communities.

African American shape-note singers employ a seven-note system, syncopated rhythms, and a uniquely emotional singing style that differentiates their music from that of the Sacred Harp tradition.

As part of the Center for Public History’s Regional Music Project, students and staff at the University of West Georgia are working to document this distinctive style of singing and to share it with new audiences.

With support from the Georgia Humanities Council and the Warren P. and Ava F. Sewell Foundation, the Center is producing a CD focusing on this tradition.  This recording, scheduled for December 2011, will be the fifth release in the Center’s Regional Music Collection that focuses on roots music in the Georgia piedmont.

Those who carry on the shape-note singing tradition in modern African American communities often remember members of their family who also sang shape-notes and find themselves drawn to the practice by both the beauty of the music and the timelessness that it represents.

As those who remember and practice shape-note singing grow older, the tradition is in danger of being lost. To document and preserve this rich part of Georgia’s musical history, the Center for Public History is collecting oral histories from contemporary note singers and collecting historical recordings of this music from the United Shape Note Singers in western Georgia and the Associated Note Singers, who are based in Atlanta.

For more information on the public programs, please contact Dusty Marie Dye at the Center for Public History at 678-839-6141 or by e-mail ddye1@my.westga.edu. Additional information on the Regional Music Project is available on the Center for Public History website at http://www.westga.edu/cph.