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Filming Sweet Is the Day

Since the 1920s, Sacred Harp singing has been of considerable interest to American folklorists, who have recognized its unique position in the history of American music and American religion. Among them is Alan Lomax, one of folklore's most prodigious fieldworkers, who has made several important recordings of singing during his lengthy career.

Carnice & Chester Wootten (filmed by Alan Lomax)In 1980, Lomax visited the Woottens to conduct interviews and to film informal family singing. The opening scene, featuring the song "Corinth" and also the later interviews and performances of "Hallelujah" and "Wondrous Love," were taken from the 1980 Lomax footage. Chester, Carnice, and Mack Wootten, in the foreground in the "Corinth" performance, all passed away during the period before "Sweet Is the Day" was filmed.

Lomax also visited Sand Mountain in 1959 to record the United Sacred Harp Singing Convention, held that year in Fyffe. The United Convention is a special type of convention that is hosted by a different community each year-thus the 1959 event was not a local Sand Mountain singing. It was not connected to the Wootten family, though a few Woottens did attend.

That recording has been released in several editions and has gained recognition as an exceptional example of pre-1970s Sacred Harp convention singing. "White Spirituals from the Sacred Harp" (orig. 1977; CD released 1993, New World Records 80205-2) was the classic commercial release. Rounder Records has reissued two recordings of the singing from Lomax's "Southern Journey" series that include more material and commentary: "Harp of a Thousand Strings: All Day Singing from The Sacred Harp" (Rounder 1709) and "And Glory Shone Around: More All Day Singing from The Sacred Harp" (Rounder 1710).

In 1999 the United Convention returned to Sand Mountain, hosted at Liberty Church in Henagar. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Lomax recording, the singing was recorded and released with historical material and photographs from the 1959 event. The 1999 CD is available from the Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association, c/o Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard, 617 Ayers Drive, Anniston AL 36201.

 

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