by Henry Willett

In Jefferson County, Alabama, beginning in the first quarter of the twentieth century, there developed a tradition of African-American a cappella quartet singing that was to have such widespread influence on the recorded gospel music industry that numerous record companies applied "Birmingham" to recording artists who were not even from Alabama, hoping to take advantage of that city's reputation as the heartland of gospel quartet music.

With a rich, fluid and mellow intertwining of voices, the Birmingham Sound" is a direct-line ancestor to the most popular versions of African-American harmony singing, from the Ink Spots and the Platters to the Temptations, Take Six and Boyz 2 Men.

Read more: "Birmingham Sound" Had Profound Influence on American Popular Music

Listen to and purchase Sacred Harp Singers music at CD Baby

What is Sacred Harp singing?

Sacred Harp is a uniquely American tradition that brings communities together to sing four-part hymns and anthems. It is a proudly inclusive and democratic part of our shared cultural heritage.

Participants are not concerned with re-creating or re-enacting historical events. Our tradition is a living, breathing, ongoing practice passed directly to us by generations of singers, many gone on before and many still living.

All events welcome beginners and newcomers, with no musical experience or religious affiliation required — in fact, the tradition was born from colonial “singing schools” whose purpose was to teach beginners to sing and our methods continue to reflect this goal. Though Sacred Harp is not affiliated with any denomination, it is a deeply spiritual experience for all involved, and functions as a religious observance for many singers.


Read more: Sacred Harp Singers

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