Writing by and about Sacred Harp Composer Raymond C. Hamrick

I contributed an essay on the many contributions of singer, composer, and scholar Raymond Cooper Hamrick to Sacred Harp singing to the latest issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter. In my essay, “Raymond C. Hamrick’s Contributions to Sacred Harp Singing and Scholarship,” I note that, as a composer,

Hamrick imparted to his music a distinctive voice that recalls the earliest American composers while embracing a fluid melodic style and expansive chordal palette all its own. He wrote hundreds of shape-note songs across a sixty-year period, contributing some of the most popular and well-loved songs to The Sacred Harp, and consenting to have some 179 of his songs published in two editions of The Georgian Harmony. Hamrick’s singing voice was renowned, an accurate bass singer with a warm and round tone. Hamrick harbored an unquenchable curiosity—he collected rare tunebooks, studied the history of the tradition’s songs and composers, and asked and answered questions about the music’s practices in the groundbreaking articles he wrote for Sacred Harp newsletters and scholarly journals. Hamrick was a gracious and generous mentor and a friend to many. He shared his knowledge of Sacred Harp’s history, his insight into composition, and his thoughtful opinions with singers young and old over decades.

My essay on Hamrick, who was a mentor to me, serving “as a gracious and humble model for combining enthusiasm for Sacred Harp singing and composing with research into its history and practices,” as I noted in my dissertation’s acknowledgments, appeared in the Newsletter‘s first special issue.

“Raymond C. Hamrick on The Sacred Harp,” special issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter.

Raymond Cooper Hamrick on The Sacred Harp,” which I edited, “includes insightful essays by Hamrick himself, a video interview, and commentary on his many contributions to the Sacred Harp world.” The collection includes seven essays by Hamrick himself. Two of these, a masterful study of tempo and an insider’s account of the process of editing The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition, were never before published. A short video of Alan Lomax and Hamrick in conversation recorded in 1982 had also never been published before appearing in the Newsletter.

Hamrick’s unique dedication to studying and writing about Sacred Harp history and practices has largely escaped singers’ attention and was invisible to scholars unwittingly building on the foundations established by his research. I’m excited that this special issue brings Hamrick’s writings together in a single place, and grateful to have had the opportunity to draw attention to his fascinating findings and to his spirit as a person. I am also grateful to the large team of volunteers, Hamrick family members, and librarians and editors, named in my introduction, who made this issue possible.

Article on Sacred Harp Composer Raymond C. Hamrick in Georgia Music News

Update (December 7, 2014): Thanks to Mary Leglar for granting me permission to post a copy of this article here in memory of Raymond C. Hamrick, who died last month at age ninety-nine.

Update (January 26, 2015): The Guardian and Georgia Music have recently posted lovely remembrances of Raymond C. Hamrick. Read,

Update (January 5, 2017): A substantially revised and expanded version of my essay on Hamrick appears in the new special issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter on Hamrick as “Raymond C. Hamrick’s Contributions to Sacred Harp Singing and Scholarship.”

“Raymond Cooper Hamrick: Sacred Harp Craftsman,” in Georgia Music News.

An article of mine, “Raymond Cooper Hamrick: Sacred Harp Craftsman,” which contains a short biography of Hamrick and an account of his prolific output as a Sacred Harp composer, has been published as the “Historical Profile” in Georgia Music News, Volume 72, Number 2 (Winter 2011).

In addition to his six songs in the Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition, one hundred of Hamrick’s shape-note compositions are collected in the Georgian Harmony (2010). Sacred Harp singers are currently meeting to sing through an even larger selection of Hamrick’s music, in preparation for the publication of a second volume, expected in 2012.

Hamrick has been a gracious friend and mentor since I first met him six years ago. I am glad to have had the opportunity to write about him for this publication. In addition to Hamrick, I would like to thank John Plunkett, who improved my article by offering revisions, contributing research, soliciting materials and obtaining permissions for their use, and writing a first draft of the paragraphs in the article on The Georgian Harmony. He should properly be credited as a co-author. Thank you as well to Stephanie Tingler for soliciting the piece, and for commenting on a draft. My thanks to Mary Leglar and the staff of Georgia Music News for publishing the piece, and for their work in copyediting the manuscript and laying it out beautifully. Thanks to Pat Graham, Justin Levi, Sara Lynch-Thomason, and Jonathon Kelso for allowing me to include photographs and illustrations of theirs with the piece. And finally, thanks to Hugh McGraw and Charlene Wallace for identifying the date and location of a photograph of Raymond Hamrick from the 1970s.