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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Pearl River singers at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church
Pearl River South Singing Convention members at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, Tylertown, MS, November 28, 1999. Photo: Patrick Snook

Pearl River South Singing Convention

This event brings together singers from four African-American churches in southern Mississippi's rural Marion and Walthall Counties. Founded in 1916, the convention membership meets three times a year for singing practice, worship, and fellowship. Unaccompanied gospel singing using shape note notation, also known as Sacred Harp or fa-so-la, is traditional among black and white Mississippi congregations, but individual styles and musical arrangements vary from one church to another. Shape note singing has its origins in a blend of two diverse streams of music: the urban gospel songs of the late 19th century revival and the choral folk music of the southern states.

Shape note singing as practiced by the Pearl River South Singing Convention uses a notation system of seven geometric shapes, each identified by a syllable ( do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti) representing a musical note. The convention still sings unaccompanied by the piano as it did when it was founded, singing instead "by the counts and the beats," because the music dates to a time before most rural churches had pianos. The Pearl River South singers work hard to carry on their community's tradition of shape note signing so that "the Lord will get the glory."

Documentation of the convention, produced by the Pine Hills Culture Program, includes three audiotapes from the November 1999 session, a seven-page written report, ten black-and-white photographs, a program from the June 1999 session, the sheet music for "Lord, I Want To Be Ready," and a map of the area of rural Marion and Walthall Counties that is home to the convention.

Originally submitted by: Ronnie Shows, Representative (4th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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