Benjamin Franklin White, born 1800 in South Carolina, was a Southern music pioneer. His collection of hymns titled The Sacred Harp, published in 1844, was based on shape note singing and became the standard hymnal in the South. Shape note music first appeared in 1801 and quickly spread through the rural Southern congregationalist communities. The music is performed a cappella and has a thunderous and distinctive–almost hypnotic–rhythm with singers divided into sections based vocal range. Each section takes turns leading. White’s book of hymns served as the textbook for the Southern Musical Convention for two decades. The Convention formed in 1845 in order to provide a gathering place for Southern vocalists and to set standards for teachers in Southern singing schools. The Chattahoochee Musical Convention (formed 1852) and the East Texas Musical Convention (formed 1855) still meet annually and were founded on White’s work and that of the Southern Musical Convention. The Sacred Harp was republished four times by 1911.
White spent much of his life in Harris County, Georgia, not far from Columbus and Pine Mountain. He edited the first newspaper published in Harris County, The Organ, and also served as the Clerk of the Inferior Court.
Bobby Horton performs his version of one of White’s more powerful tunes, Beach Spring, on his Homespun Songs of Faith Vol. 2. Horton is a modern Southern bard. His work has been featured on Ken Burns’s documentaries on the “Civil War” and in several film productions for the National Park Service. His true love is the South and Southern music. This piece is fitting for Easter Sunday. Also below is The Sacred Harp song I’m Going Home performed in its traditional shape note form.