BIG SINGING "Brethren, we have met to worship. .." on this very special fourth Sunday in May as have many others for the last one hundred and one years. It all began when James R. and George Lemon, brothers, and some others gathered at the Benton Seminary in 1884 to join their voices in singing from the Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, hoping to revive the popularity of that music. From such an inauspicious beginning has grown "the oldest indigenous musical tradition in the United States." Very soon traditions were founded: most years, the singing was held at the Courthouse, at 10:00 A.M., beginning always with "Holy Manna." The leader would hold the songbook in his left hand, keeping time with the right hand without any accompaniment. The singers first went through the song "by note" (fa, sol, la, mi), then "by line", singing the words. If the leader was familiar with more verses than printed in the book, he would "line them out" in the approved manner. It was a distinct honor to be chosen to lead the mass rendition of old hymns and ballads. Since people came by train, buggies, jolt wagons and on foot from great distances, they would rest from their song at noon and gather in groups on the Courthouse lawn for basket dinners and homecoming visits. After the last morsel of fried chicken and angel food cake was consumed, they would come together again to sing until 4:00 P.M., usually ending the day with "The Christians' Farewell". William Walker, born May 6,1809, of Welsh descent in the Carolinas, was author of Southern Harmony. It is not certain when he was first called "Singin' Billy" Walker. At an early age he joined the Welsh Baptist Church where he was exposed to the tradition of religious songs which that church passed on to early America and which made their way into Southern Harmony. Walker was fired with ambition to perfect vocal methods of praises, which he considered an essential to religious worship: He spent a lifetime of collecting and arranging into meter and melody the songs he published in 1835. Southern Harmony soon was known to every household in the southeast states. Congregational singing and singing schools without benefit of instrumental accompaniment, were the norm in rural America. As singing master, Walker taught hundreds of singing schools in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and East Tennessee. He became a leader in the field and later in life taught teachers in , what were called "normal" schools. His signature was always William Walker, A.S.H. (Author of Southern Harmony). He once told friends, "I would rather have" A.S.H. after my name than P-r-e-s in front of it." He died in I 1875. His monument notes that he was the author of four books of sacred music and had taught music for 45 years. The Southern Harmony was actually a practical approach to providing material for Walker's own singing schools. Many seemed to agree about its value, having bought 600,000 copies in 25 years. Prior to the Civil War, it became so popular that general stores stocked it along with the India tea, French silk ribbons, and rock candy. Walker opened his book with the "Gamut or Rudiments of Music, " found in various forms since the age of Shakespeare. It was the only printed instructions used in his schools. The scale as we know it today, do re mi fa sol la ti do, was introduced to Colonial America by foreign musicians. However, it never, in the rural south, replaced the old English system of fa sol la fa sol la mi fa. Long forgotten in England, it survives in Southern Harmony and in the Sacred Harp, compiled in 1844 by B.F. White, Walker's brother-in-law, and still used in the deep South. Perhaps the most noticeable feature is the four shape-notes, designed to make reading music easier. The shape of the note indicated its name: triangle is fa, circle is sol, square is la, diamond is mi. The position on the staff indicated its high or low pitch. The shape-notes were introduced about 1800 by William Little and William Smith of Albany, New York. Used for a little while by all songbook publishers, its use is now confined to the rural south. The songbook was not published after 1854 and became a priceless treasure. To provide a new supply, reproductions of the book were made in 1939 and again in 1966. The Southern Harmony style may possibly be only a treasured antique in the area where Walker taught so many singing schools. But each generation of descendants of its founders has instilled a love and knowledge of its singing into their children, which became a family tradition. Members of some families have been song leaders and singers for generations. In an effort to promote and preserve Southern Harmony singing, the Society for Preservation of Southern Harmony made a record, "Holy Manna", with the most popular songs of that style. The 1973 Southern Harmony singers from Benton were invited to sing and represent Kentucky's folk life during a festival in Washington, D.C. Of the 89 bronze plaques awarded in the United States by the National Music Council, one was presented to Benton in 1976 for preserving a pure and authentic music form. How did this "pure and authentic" music reach Marshall County? It came in the summer of 1852, packed with the Bible and a few treasured possessions in a covered wagon driven by the father of James R. Lemon from Guilford County, North Carolina, across the Appalachians to his new Marshall County home. A fine tenor, James R. became a "singing master" himself, at the same time being a schoolteacher, traveling salesman, druggist, and finally editor of the Benton Tribune, and postmaster. A true musician, he left a heritage matched by few others. As he expressed in his poem, "Big Singing", in 1908, "It is a great pleasure to us .To meet and shake your hand; And greet you once again, In singing 'Happy Land'." from pg. 32-33 History of Marshall County, 1984 (C) Marshall County Genealogical Society.