Sacred Harp music or shape-note singing is as old as America itself. The term sacred harp refers to the human voice. Brought to this continent by the settlers of Jamestown, this style of singing is also known as “fasola.” In Legacy of the Sacred Harp, author Chloe Webb follows the history of this musical form back four hundred years, and in the process uncovers the harrowing legacy of her Dumas family line. The journey begins in contemporary Texas with an overlooked but historically rich family heirloom, a tattered 1869 edition of The Sacred Harp songbook.
Traveling across the South and sifting through undiscovered family history, Webb sets out on a personal quest to reconnect with her ancestors who composed, sang, and lived by the words of Sacred Harp music. Her research irreversibly transforms her rose-colored view of her heritage and brings endearing characters to life as the reality of the effects of slavery on Southern plantation life, the thriving tobacco industry, and the Civil War are revisited through the lens of the Dumas family. Most notably, Webb’s original research unearths the person of Ralph Freeman, freed slave and pastor of a pre-Civil War white Southern church.
Wringing history from boxes of keepsakes, lively interviews, dusty archival libraries, and church records, Webb keeps Sacred Harp lyrics ringing in readers’ ears, allowing the poetry to illuminate the lessons and trials of the past. The choral shape-note music of the Sacred Harp whispers to us of the past, of the religious persecution that brought this music to our shores, and how the voices of contemporary Sacred Harp singers still ring out the unchanged lyrics across the South, the music pulling the past into our present.
CHLOE WEBB has been singing all her life, from kindergarten music class, to church soloist, to a short stint as a professional singer, and now in a Fort Worth church choir. An award-winning ASID designer, Webb was more at home in high-rise buildings of Dallas than in one-room country churches with no air conditioning, where she and her husband Doug now spend some of their happiest hours. Now in retirement, Chloe and Doug Webb attend every Sacred Harp singing they can fit into their calendar, traveling from coast to coast.