Example of Shape-Note Singing | Digital Traditions


NOTE: Transcripts are not available yet for the audio.

The use of the shape note method of reading music was an important thread in American musical history. Introduced at the end of the eighteenth century, shape note books printed music with a different shaped note for each degree of the scale.

Associated with the revivals of the Second Great Awakening in the early nineteenth century, shape note hymnals were printed throughout the eastern United States, and the method was taught by itinerant singing school masters. In the Southeast, shape note singing was adopted by both European-American and African-American congregations, and the tradition of gathering for singing conventions continues until the present in several parts of the state.

The James Bing Note Singers are an African-American shape note group, who trace their origin to a group of singers organized by George Johnson at Old Dunbarton in Barnwell County, on the present site of the Savannah River Plant.

Though they are now scattered throughout the area, the group of singers, who range in age from 66 to 91, continue to meet regularly to keep the tradition alive. The Singers received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1992.