Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



Major Professor

Leslie Gay

Committee Members

Rachel Golden, Nasser Al-Taee


This thesis explores the cultural context of Sacred Harp singing on Sand Mountain, Alabama. Using Stephen Feld’s concept of “iconicity of style,” I demonstrate that Sacred Harp singing is more than just a form of music, but an overarching aesthetic that ties together multiple forms of cultural expression and social interaction. Sacred Harp singing occurs in many different contexts on Sand Mountain, ranging from church services, to organized singings, to impromptu social events. Its presence in all these realms connects the sacred and the secular, bridging diverse aspects of Sand Mountain culture.

As I investigate the place of Sacred Harp within this geographically and demographically distinct region of Alabama, I show how it forms the basis for the construction of complex individual and group identities. Notions of “tradition” are especially important to Sand Mountain singers, who attempt to preserve singing practices and stylistic elements from earlier generations. Sacred Harp singing not only ties together disparate social realms; participants believe that it connects families and communities across time and space, linking present and past generations. In my analysis of the social context of Sacred Harp singing on Sand Mountain, I convey a much more detailed understanding of the iconic nature of the musical form than exists in previous scholarship, greatly adding to scholarly understanding of the cultural context of this musical form.

Liberty (Cooper, 137, 2006).mp3 (123 kB)
Liberty (Cooper, 137, 2006).mp3

Liberty (Denson, 137, 1991).mp3 (142 kB)
Liberty (Denson, 137, 1991).mp3

Sweet Union (Denson, 1991, 424).mp3 (3222 kB)
Sweet Union (Denson, 1991, 424).mp3

Brown and Amazing Grace Recording.mp3 (1892 kB)
Brown and Amazing Grace Recording.mp3

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