For the last century, African-American churches in McCormick, Greenwood and Edgefield counties have maintained a fellowship of song through the Springfield Baptist Singing Convention. Led for 25 years by Deacon Robert Elijah Nelson, Sr., the members of the convention continue the tradition of “shape note” singing through their biannual singing celebrations.
The shape-note system of musical notation, which uses a different shaped note for each degree of the scale, gained popularity in the eastern United States during the revivals of the early nineteenth century. Traveling instructors set up singing schools to teach the new hymn style to both European-American and African-American congregations. A native of Greenwood County, Deacon Nelson continues the tradition of the singing school master in his work with the 15 classes that make up the Springfield Convention.
Deacon Nelson was a third generation shape-note singer and was a part of the convention for over 60 years. The commitment of Deacon Nelson and the Springfield Convention guarantees that shape-note singing has a strong future in our state. The late Deacon Nelson's legacy is continued today as his son, Robert Nelson, Jr., continues to support the efforts of the Singing Convention. Deacon Nelson received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1994.