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"BIRMINGHAM SOUND" HAD PROFOUND INFLUENCE ON AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC
by Henry Willett
In Jefferson County, Alabama, beginning in the first quarter of the twentieth century, there developed a tradition of African-American a cappella quartet singing that was to have such widespread influence on the recorded gospel music industry that numerous record companies applied "Birmingham" to recording artists who were not even from Alabama, hoping to take advantage of that city's reputation as the heartland of gospel quartet music.
With a rich, fluid and mellow intertwining of voices, the Birmingham Sound" is a direct-line ancestor to the most popular versions of African-American harmony singing, from the Ink Spots and the Platters to the Temptations, Take Six and Boyz 2 Men.
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What is Sacred Harp singing?
Sacred Harp is a uniquely American tradition that brings communities together to sing four-part hymns and anthems. It is a proudly inclusive and democratic part of our shared cultural heritage.
Participants are not concerned with re-creating or re-enacting historical events. Our tradition is a living, breathing, ongoing practice passed directly to us by generations of singers, many gone on before and many still living.
All events welcome beginners and newcomers, with no musical experience or religious affiliation required — in fact, the tradition was born from colonial “singing schools” whose purpose was to teach beginners to sing and our methods continue to reflect this goal. Though Sacred Harp is not affiliated with any denomination, it is a deeply spiritual experience for all involved, and functions as a religious observance for many singers.
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Independent record label which was launched by Phil Walden, Alan Walden, and Frank Fenter in 1969 in Macon, Georgia.
Capricorn became famous for its role in spearheading Southern rock in the seventies, with The Allman Brothers Band at the forefront, but also including the Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie, Jonathan Edwards, Captain Beyond, White Witch, Grinderswitch, Cowboy, and Hydra.
At first the records were distributed by WEA/Warner Music Group (first through Atlantic Records, then later Warner Bros. Records), and later by PolyGram Records. Capricorn went out of business in October 1979. Gregg Atwill was an engineer and publicity seeker with Capricorn throughout the seventies.
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By John Bealle, Cincinnati, Ohio
Alabama has long been considered by folksong collectors as a state rich in traditional music. This is particularly a result of the waves of Scots-Irish and African peoples that populated the region during the nineteenth century, whose musical traditions were sustained by the enduring agricultural economy and by their relative cultural stability. When twentieth-century folksong collectors and recording-company talent scouts visited the state, they found a wealth of traditional music still embedded in community social entertainment, religious worship, and communal labor. Their collections long defined the breadth and character of traditional music in Alabama.
Later, as the economy diversified beyond its agricultural roots, and as suburbs and shopping malls came to redefine the landscape, musical traditions adapted. The first adaptation was in the major industries, such as the steel mills of Bessemer and the docks of Mobile Bay, where proximity and common experience provided a context for the formation of musical culture. As work and leisure became less communal, traditional music—in community festivals and other recreational events—remained important catalysts for social reaffirmation. More recently, as mass communication and travel have brought Americans closer together, traditional music has served as a means to carve out distinctions, to define what it means to be an Alabamian. Thus it is common now to find music engaged as heritage, invoking its historical roots as a means to achieve distinctive cultural identity.