Milton Oliver/James Brown Interview

Interviewer: James Brown Interviewee: Milton Oliver Location: Home of Milton Oliver near Collinsville, Alabama Date of Interview: May 20, 1994

JAMES BROWN: I always turn the machine on and run the volume up about half way and get the tone in the middle. And I say, on the first of the tape I say, "My name is Jim Brown, this is May the 20th. I am at the house of Mr. Milton Oliver, about a mile and a half south of Collinsville and then up on the mountain. And I want to see it the machine is working." And we have now determined that it is (laughs). Mr. Oliver, can you tell us where you are from and how long you have been in this area?

MILTON OLIVER: I have been around here about seventy five years. I was born and raised here.

JB: Your folks were from here too?

MO: Right.

JB: How about your grand folks?

MO: They were, too. My grandfather lived in Collinsville and out here, too. And my grandfather Oliver lived two miles or three north of here.

JB: On the mountain?

MO: On the mountain.

JB: And how about, how about your wife?


MO: Well now she is

JB: Is she from this area?

MO: About five miles south of here.

JB: A long way off (laughs).

MO: Where the crow flies (laughs).

JB: We, we have heard some sacred harp music. We have listened to tapes. Everybody has listened to tapes on the way in. And I have tried to get them interested because it is one of my favorite kinds of music, but I, I, I cannot give them an appreciation for what this music means to somebody who grew up with it. Like somebody who really grew up in it. When did you first hear this music?

MO: Well, I do not remember that far back. I was born and raised in it. And that is about as far back as I can go. I guess twenty-seven in seventy-five years.

JB: What is your first memory of it?

MO: Well. . .

JB: Did you go to singing school?

MO: I did.


JB: How old were you?

MO: I was probably six or seven.

JB: Did you already know how to sing by the time you went?

MO: I would not think so. Not much anyway.

JB: Tell us about a singing school. How long was it and what did it cost?

MO: Well, it did not cost anything, really. My uncle taught it, and he was doing it for a donation to a church over there close to where he lived. And I, we did not pay anything. It was two weeks long. Ten days, I guess.

JB: How many people were in, how many students, and where did they come from?

MO: All local. I guess maybe fifteen, twenty at the most.

JB: How old? Always six or seven?

MO: All ages. Mostly, well, no real old people in there like me now. Course I go 3:00to them now if I get a chance.

JB: To a singing school?

MO: Yes.

JB: Do they still have a singing school?

MO: Well not around here, but I have been to Cane Creek. Jeff Shepherd taught the one over there two or three years ago. I went over there, I do not know. Did not go every night, but I did go some. He is a good teacher.

JB: Well how do they teach you how? How to you start somebody who has never sung at a-?

MO: Well, they turn the first book, Rubens, and I think the first three things that consists of music are harmony, time, and rhythms or something like that. And that is about all I remember of that, really. Three things. And then they go from there, and they pick up the four notes.


JB: Fa, so, la, and mi.

MO: Fa, so, la, mi. And they put a scale or lines and spaces on a blackboard, and they start, well usually “f” for the start then go up. I cannot hardly go to the top “f,” but you learn to run up and down "fa, so, la, fa, so, la, mi, fa" one through eight. Which would be the same thing as the seventh shape "do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do". Same tones.

JB: Same sound of the notes.

MO: Same sound. As the four notes, only they use the, and the four notes they use the “fa” one through eight three times, “so” twice, and “la” twice, “mi” only once. Now why, I do not know. But they do not use the 5:00“mi” but once. They sort of, what, what do you call it, show partiality towards (unclear) (laughs).

JB: Well after they teach you the scale, then, what do they do? Do they teach you intervals or?

MO: Well, now most of them, they will pick a simple song and sing and-

JB: Everybody singing tenor line or just a-?

MO: Everybody sings tenor line. And they would try to get you to copy what they are trying to do, mostly. I do not know if it was more or less a crude way of going at it I guess.

JB: Do they ever get to parts in the singing school, ever do more than one part?

MO: They finally work in that and get, they like to get someone that is familiar with the different parts and then get beginners around them and pick it up from there.


JB: But by the end of the ten days or two weeks, the kids in the singing school can sing different parts?

MO: Sing, some of them can. Now back when I first remembered, we had the White book, and it only had five, three, three parts, not five.

JB: Did not have the alto?

MO: Did not have the alto. The women, ladies, had to sing bass.

JB: Ladies sang bass?

MO: Well, they used that, they were an octave above the men.

JB: Okay.

MO: But if they did sing bass and alto was sort of closely related I reckon.

JB: When did they put in the alto? Do you know?

MO: 1910 I think, in the James book. Cooper, I do not know if it came out with, 7:00when it was first printed or not. You do not know where your old book is, do you? It is,

PAULINE OLIVER: The old one, oldest one?

MO: Yeah, the one that your granddaddy had. I think his had four parts then. Back in 1902, 1903 or 1904, something like that.

JB: Well they did not get four parts in the Denson Revision of the white book until later.

MO: 1910

JB: Oh, that one. Okay.

MO: And the white book, I wish I had told her to bring a white book out here, too. I hope she can find it.

JB: So when you went to singing school, did you go four parts or three parts when they taught you? They taught you out of a three part?

MO: Three part.

JB: Three part book.

MO: I did not know anything about alto. And I cannot sing it anyway (laughter).

JB: I noticed there is fewer people singing that usually. There is more on the 8:00other parts, are there not?

MO: I guess more on soprano, tenor

JB: Tenor or treble

MO: And maybe, sometimes, not too many on treble. You have got to work pretty hard on treble. (Dr. Brown laughs) Heard my uncle say one time that he used to sing bass, and he said that is too light of work for me, says I am going to triple it (unclear) (laughs).

JB: Did you ever teach any singing schools?

MO: No

JB: Or just helped a bunch of people?

MO: I do not know that much about it.

JB: That is not what Terry Wooten says, but-

MO: Well, he might exaggerate sometimes (laughs).

JB: Well, did you, once you went to a singing school, did you stay in it regularly or your family was going to them all the time anyway?

MO: All, almost, not every Sunday, but there was singing somewhere around in lots of places. My grandfather organized singings in, I used to know how about 9:00many different churches he went to and had annual singings there. But they began to fade out. Here. (Shows Dr. Brown book) This is a first one they have, and it has got four parts. I have got it upside down, but I can do about as well upside down as I could right. See, it has four parts, I do not know what year that book was printed. See, the first part of is it gone. But it is one of the earlier Cooper Books.

JB: That is pushing a hundred years old is it not?

MO: It is. I do not see-

JB: Do you mind if we hand it around?

MO: Not, not a bit in the world.

JB: That is like a museum piece.

MO: This is-

JB: But they are all longer than they are tall, are they not?

MO: This is the latest edition of the Cooper Book. And it has four parts, too.


JB: Here, here is something that has always bothered me. How come these are longer than they are tall, and most of, most of the hymn books you have in a downtown church is taller than they are long. What is the difference?

MO: I cannot explain that.

JB: Just fashion?

MO: I reckon it is just the design. Now here is a White Book, but it is not many of them have four parts in it.

JB: Most of them are three part?

MO: This is a 1910 edition. See, there is three there, three there.

JB: Okay.

MO: And sometimes, this is J. L. White, now it is not the original B. F. White. There is the major B. F. White.

JB: This is the one who invented it in Georgia and it came across an 1844 book.


MO: Right, course this is a 1910, I think. J.L. White edition. See, I did not, I was not fortunate enough to, fourth edition with supplement.

JB: Okay.

MO: And, J.L. White, see right there.

JB: I see. Well this, is like when it first started. This book is more like when you first started with the three parts.

MO: Right, only there have been additions to it.

JB: More songs?

MO: More songs. Good songs in there. I think I might be a matter of opinion, but-

JB: Now, now these two people I get tangled up when I try to talk about this because I do not know anything about the Cooper Book, but this is a Cooper Book, and what do you call this book?

MO: This is a ‘91 edition, they call it right there.

JB: Okay.

MO: It came down from the James Book, Denson Book, and then the ‘91 edition.

JB: So you just call it the ‘91 edition vs Cooper Book.

MO: Right.

JB: And they both use four shapes?

MO: Right.

JB: And some of the songs are almost exactly the same in each book?

MO: Practically the same, might be a little wording different.


JB: Tell me why there is a, tell me why there is a little friction between people who sing out of the Cooper Book and people who sing out of the ‘91s. Discuss where you got people there is friction, but I do not know. Is not there a little jealousy?

MO: I believe there is. I do not know it, but I believe it. There might have been a little jealousy with the White Book and the James Book. I think, I am going to tell this if it is alright, what my daddy got in to at Ashville down here. They sung in the White Book, and he had a James Book. And went, they got a truck and truck load of them went down there. I did not go, I remember it, but I did not go.

JB: About what year would that have been?


MO: I would guess around early 1930s, or late 1920s. And they stopped them at the door, would not let them go in (laughs). So Daddy, he did not have a book like they had, and he just stayed outside. They said that is what they told him (laughs). And well you know they have friction in churches sometimes about where you place the piano.

JB: That is right.

MO: Someone on one side of the other, one side of the house and the other one wants something on-

JB: That would spilt a church, would it not (laughs)?

MO: Not much difference.

JB: Yeah. Now I have not been to any singings up on the mountain here, but I have been to some down closer to Birmingham, and I went to one at the Old County Line Baptist Church and sat next to a woman. And she was not just ancient, and 14:00she said that she was the first woman to ever lead a song in that church. Do you remember when the churches you went to and men sat on one side and women on the other, and only men led the songs?

MO: Well I will tell you what I heard. That they would not let the women folks get on the front bench back in the first singings, say in 1840 and 1850 and along in there. And I do not think they directed songs either.

JB: By the time you came along, they directed songs.

MO: As far as I know. I cannot long wise women getting in a crowd then (unclear) (laughter)

JB: Well you have got to be careful because your wife is listening (laughter).

MO: Well, I feel like I am protected, you know (laughs).

JB: Well the main thing I would like to get at, having some background of where 15:00you are in your life is, what hold, what hold this music has on you. What is it about it that makes you go Sunday after Sunday, year after year?

MO: That would be hard to answer right now. I might have to think on that a day or two. I do not know.

JB: I have only got a forty five minute tape (laughs).

MO: In other words. You know, you asked me the song.

JB: Okay.

(Mrs. Oliver speaks, but it is not audible on the recording)

JB: (To Mrs. Oliver) He has been like that ever since you knew him? And you married him anyway? (Laughs) (To Milton Oliver) Why, why do you like it?

MO: Well-

JB: That is a hard question for anybody to answer, I know, on anything now.

MO: Well, you take this song here, you asked me yesterday about. I cannot read 16:00it without my glasses on, but the words of that, you know, it seems as though that it was a seamen or a bunch of seamen in a storm. And that song, the way it was describing it, and they were in bad times. And-

JB: When through the torn sail, the wild tempest is streaming. When o’er the dark waves the red lightning is gleaming. Nor hope, nor hope lends a ray, the poor seamen to cherish, we fly to our Maker, save, Lord or we parish.

MO: In other words, they, they went to the Lord, the seamen, there. And I think, and I think if you compare that with your ups and downs in life, and when you go so far, why you go to the Lord for your help and support.

JB: Is this music, is it first and foremost a worship? A kind of a worship?


MO: Well, to me it is. It is not a thing some do, make a sort of picnic out of it, you know. That is alright, that is just some junk I had in there, right on in there, does not make any difference.

JB: You do not usually have a sermon on the singing days, do you?

MO: Sometimes, in south Alabama, where they use this book, they will sing until, say, eleven o’clock and might have an intermission before eleven. Then they have the preaching hour. And when the preaching hour is over, say, we will say twelve, they spread lunch, and then the rest of the day is singing.


JB: I have had the feeling up here that, that doing all the work, doing all the singing takes the place of the sermon. It is like a sermon in song. Would you agree with that?

MO: Well-

JB: And everybody is doing the same, everybody is on the same page and doing it the same time. There is not one person.

MO: You notice right there is a Bible verse.

JB: Luke 7:50 “Thy faith has saved thee, go in peace.” At the top of every one of them, they have a bible verse?

MO: Well I do not know if every one, but a lot of them do have Bible verses under the heading of the song or whatever is the name of it. Course, they have some unusual names in here, you know. Why, I do not know, they just name them a place where they live or something like that.

JB: I have seen them named after places in Tennessee and Alabama and Cincinnati and something like that.

MO: Now they have got some names in here I would not know how to pronounce them, really.


JB: What do you think about round notes?

MO: I cannot handle it.

JB: You told me the other day a story about a choir director. Would you mind telling these people? They did not hear this story.

MO: Well, the church where she was born and raised, and belongs to, now, they hired a choir director, and she would bring in sheet music. They wanted me to get up in the choir and sing, and handed me a sheet of music. I could not; it did not mean a thing in the world to me, really. I know where the keys are on the lines and spaces, but I might not say them like they are supposed to. And, I just, I could not handle it.


JB: So, if you, if you read the shapes, you just cannot read the round notes? You have to learn to read it all over again?

MO: I do not read, I do not read the lines and spaces. I just have an idea where the-

JB: Look at the shape and know where it is. And that is all you need, right?

MO: That is all I use. Now, that might not be the right way to do it, but that is how I use it.

JB: I, sometimes I have seen it written without the five lines. I have just seen the bar and the shapes, and people who can read the shapes do not really need those five lines.

MO: That is right.

JB: Are you that way?

MO: They are a lot better off than I am (laughs).

JB: What is it about the music? It is a, it is a different kind of music.

MO: It is. Some of the music in these songs, I, I believe could be improved on. I do. Now, I would not want Hugh McGraw and (laughter) JL, John Ethards, I 21:00believe. He had a heart attack the other day and sung a little down there but, to know that I said that. But I believe it could be improved. The music could be.

JB: Do you write any?

MO: No, I could not. I tried to put notes on some lat (unclear) the round note stuff that the choir director had, and I could not tell what I put in there. It is so small, I could not read it, so (laughter) I just give up.

JB: Where about, when you go to these singings, how many people, do you recognize everybody there usually when you go to a singing? Or it depends on how close it is?

MO: Most of the time I do. Now, year before last, there was a group that came 22:00down from close to Washington. I did not know them. I had to meet them outside, and I had a little notebook pad, and I asked them to write their names on that. And I tried to remember their names, and I am not doing as well as I would like to on that. But, I think it is a good policy if you can call a person's name. Maybe the first name. As old as I am, I can call them by their first name and get by with it. They do not mind anyway.

JB: What I was trying to get at was the sense of community. You know, when you go to one church all the time, you know who is going to be there, and who is not most of the time.

MO: Right.

JB: But, when you, if you are going to a different place every Sunday, singing here, and singing there, and singing over here, is there still a sense of, what kind of community is it? What brings you all together?


MO: It is similar, very similar. Maybe, I do not know what would be the word to use, but, maybe they are sort of in the low class like I am (laughter), or a little above me. In other words, I can hob nob with them and get by with them.

JB: Well, are you a member of a regular church?

MO: Yes.

JB: Now I have heard preachers criticize this going off every Sunday to a different singing, because, you might be there Sunday night or you might be there Wednesday night, or whenever else the church is open, but you are not there for the Sunday morning Sunday school and sermon.

MO: Right, a lot of times no.

JB: How do you, if a preacher were to say to you, well, this is bad because you are missing Sunday service, what do you say?


MO: Well, I am going to tell you what a, a man told a preacher. Not mean, but, you probably have seen his daughter, Jewel Wooten, now. He told, the preacher got on his case about not coming to church, and he told him, he says, when you come up with something better than what I have got, he says I will be there (laughter). Now I do not know, I do not know, I do not know if I would tell a preacher that (laughter). He might be larger than I am (laughter).

JB: That is a good line. I have just, I am still poking around trying to find out what is it that makes it better.

MO: Well, see-

JB: I know if you, if you were to ask me something why I like what I like, I probably could not say either, but I-


MO: Well, you have the words in a lot of these songs, mostly taken from the Bible, and when you put the music to it, why it is sort of like putting icing on the cake to use somebody else's expression, you know. It seems like it make the things better. Now, I do not, well, I better not say this, I was going to talk about somebody, but I better not.

JB: Okay. Can you talk and not use a name?

MO: I could, but it would be easy to point out (laughter) who I was talking about I guess.

JB: Okay.

MO: What I am saying is I have heard preachers get up and preach, scream and holler. Now you may like that and you may not.

JB: I do not.


MO: And I could not understand what they said. Now, if I do not get the communication or the words that he is saying, I, I am just hearing a noise, so to speak.

JB: And you have not got any problem with communication with these songs.

MO: Well if I have got a book, I can go with it.

JB: Okay.

MO: Now, if they sung a different verse, I might not understand it. The music and the pronunciation of the words by song is not perfect. You know it…

JB: Yes.

MO: as well as I do (Laughs). It could be improved on, I think. But, I do not know if you know Jim Carns, or not?

JB: I do, used to live in Birmingham.

MO: Yeah, and I think he is in Montgomery now.

JB: He is.


MO: He was talking to be one time, and I said, we need a singing school on the pronunciation of words. Singing might be a little different, and he disagreed with me. He did not think there ought to be, but I did. Now I though-

JB: He likes it just like it is, just leave it alone.

MO: Just like it is. He says I want it rough, and whatever, and just leave it.

JB: He is the editor of the Folklife journal Alabama is just starting up. Jim Collins.

MO: No he is, he is well educated. Now he should know what he is, I mean-

JB: And he has actually written a hymn has he not? Does he not have a hymn in the new book?

MO: Yes in here.

JB: In the ‘91 edition?

MO: Yeah, I could not tell you where it is, but he has one in here.

JB: And he is fairly young man, early forties I think? Maybe?

MO: I guess so.

JB: Mid-forties?

MO: Maybe.

JB: That is younger all the time.

MO: Yes. I like Jim. He is a good, and I like singing-

JB: Would you like to see the pronunciation polished up?

MO: A little bit better, because, see, I am not well educated. I might have 28:00barely gotten through high school, but that is as far as I got, and did not do a good job of that. And I think that if it is pronounced right, to me it is a little better.

JB: Better. Your wife handed me this picture. What is this? When is this?

MO: That would be.

JB: Looks a whole lot-

MO: I am going to have to go for my daughter’s side. She was about six, seven years old, and she is forty-one now. It has been about thirty-five years ago.

JB: Is this a dinner on the grounds here?

MO: Dinner on the ground, yeah. That is lemonade in a tub (laughter). That is over in Georgia. And-

JB: You remember what singing it was? That is a wonderful picture.

MO: That is, that is the man that was boss of it, the chairman, Mr. Pope. He is 29:00dead now. And all these kids here are, (unclear) some of them have gotten grandkids. My daughter has gotten grandkids. And-

JB: You remember what church it was or what it is in?

MO: No, it was above somewhere up there, and that is about as close as I can get. I do not think they had but one singing up there. And he had the lady from a newspaper, weekly newspaper to come out and take pictures. And I bought one of the pictures. I, I do not know if I am on the picture or not, but I was there.

JB: What is your favorite song in the book, and why?

MO: Well, it is that 224, I guess, would be my favorite in a sense. Back in World War II, I was, I guess you could call it a merchant seaman. I sailed 30:00across the planet, and I have been in storms. And one time we got in one and the rudder was in two positions, and it was so rough it broke one of them, and it just flopped over to one side. And they had to turn this one that way this way to keep it on even keel. And I do not know, it just seems like it appeals to me. I can go back to something like that. One time we got in some rough water, and I was on a tanker that time. And coming back we hit a storm, and they had to hit that thing as the waves were coming this way, they had to hit that ship straight into it. And it was empty. And when that rear end would go up, it rudder-ed 31:00coming out of the water. I stood on the back side of it, and the water would come that close to where I was standing and sink down. It was rough. I thought, well I better not stay out here long, might get a bigger one than that and wash me off. How come me in the merchant marines, well, they examined me, they told me, said, you are color blind. And I was trying to get in the Navy. And I got to thinking about that. If they did get me in the Navy, I would have to go to kitchen, and I could not cook (laughter), so I decided I would pick something I wanted to do.

JB: Tell these folks about the Lookout Mountain Convention. That, that is your 32:00favorite sing, kind of your home sing, is it not? Pine Grove? It is, in the Willis book, it says fourth Sunday and Saturday before in August. Lookout Mountain Convention, Pine Grove Church, four miles south of Collinsville, Alabama, east of Highway eleven. Well, you go on out this road to get to it?

MO: You can go down here about a mile, take left and go a half mile, and it would put you right there.

JB: Okay.

MO: Or you can go this road over here, this house at the top, go down it and you dead end, and go turn about a quarter over there and you are there.

JB: Well, how many people will be at this singing now? Not counting north Virginia people who come in, but how many, not counting your delegation from up toward Washington. How many folks will come to it?

MO: Well, we will have, not counting say the Terry Wooten bunch and all?

JB: Well, yeah. People from within the state and all, you can count them.

MO: It would be seventy-five, maybe.


JB: On Saturday and Sunday, too? You will average seventy-five?

MO: Well, sometimes a singing is larger on Saturday than it is on Sunday.

JB: Okay. Interesting.

MO: Some people go to church on Sunday.

JB: And you still have dinner on the ground?

MO: Dinner on the ground. You know, I showed you the picture of it. You have got your picture of dinner on the ground (laughs).

JB: If you show that picture around, you are going to have a few more folks (laughs).

MO: She does not want to talk because you might get her voice on that (laughter).

JB: You do not like to hear your voice on tape recorder? Well, what time does it start on Saturday?

MO: 9:30

JB: Who would be chairman of it?

MO: B.W. Ashley, I believe it is.

JB: Does it rotate every year?


MO: Well, we will have an election, I guess, about after the first recess somewhere along there.

JB: What kind of officers do you have to, I mean, who chooses who sings when or how do you do that?

MO: We will have an arranging committee.

JB: Arranging committee?

MO: An arranging committee. And where is that right there? Just a minute and I will, I think I can find it. . . There it is.

JB: So it tells you who the committee is on the minutes?

MO: We will have an arranging committee

JB: Alright, here last year, class was called to order by Milton Oliver leading song on page forty. You did not do your 224?

MO: No, I

JB: You saved it for later?

MO: I have a few others, you know (laughter).

JB: Okay. Well it starts out, “90th session of Lookout Mountain Sacred Harp 35:00Singing Convention was called to order by S. T. Rave, leading a song on page” so and so. “R. B. Austin led morning prayer, Milton Oliver led song on page thirty-two.” Oh, that is after recess, and you, you sang the first one. So you got to do more than one song then?

MO: I guess I did. Usually, you are trying to get them in the house and get them situated. When

JB: First one after the recess

MO: the worship leader, that is not really counted (laughter).

JB: Well, who decides who is going to see what? I have been to these singings, and somebody in the back seems like they know everybody there, and they will say so and so will lead and will be followed by so and so. Who does it?

MO: It should be there. Somewhere or another. It, where, where, where did we have the election? Does it tell?

JB: It does not tell, I do not think. It starts out singing.

MO: Election of officers.

JB: Oh I see.

MO: Chairman B.W. Ashley and Vice Chairman so and so, Secretary Randal Smith,

JB: Oh okay.

MO: Arranging Committee Milton Oliver and Bulldog.

JB: Okay.


MO: And he mostly had that, because I have had that for years and years, and I just resigned from that.

JB: Okay.

MO: And

JB: But after you have the first song sung, and you have a recess, then you come back and have elections usually?

MO: Usually

JB: And you will do the same thing this year?

MO: Probably will again this time, unless somebody gives up and makes a move that we keep the same officers we have, and somebody seconds it. Somebody says, well “all in favor,” “aye,” “all opposed,” “no,” go on again.

JB: What happens if somebody wants to sing a song that has already been sung? Is that a problem?

MO: Sing it again, as far as I am concerned (laughter). Oh, they will tell you if

JB: It has already been sung?

MO: It has already been sung if you are late getting there. They will tell you, 37:00“It has been used.” And some hard hearing, like me, they would probably go on and try to sing it anyway (laughter).

STUDENT: When did your daughter start singing? Did she lead pretty early?

MO: Well it, well she, she was singing since two years old I guess, two, three years old, or getting up there. I do not know how well she was doing, but she was getting up there.

JB: At age, at age two?

MO: Two or three years old, something like that.

JB: And she could direct?

MO: I guess, maybe better than I could (laughter).

JB: Anybody have any questions?

STUDENT: I have one. When all these people come for a sing, does everybody sing all day long, or do some leave and some go and new ones come in, or does the same bunch sing all day?

MO: Mostly the same bunch all day long.

STUDENT: Really?


MO: But some leave and some come in after lunch. We just have them coming and going all day long sometimes.

JB: And some will just come to listen, will they not? And sit in the back pews?

MO: Well, not many people come to listen. It is, they call it a singer's singing. The singers sing to one another, if that means anything. I do not know whether that makes good sense or not (laughs).

STUDENT: (question unclear)

JB: Well they have a singing school, but they still teach the shapes do they not?

MO: Oh yeah.

JB: Just like they did 150 years ago.

STUDENT: Do they have a lot of young people who are doing it?

MO: No, they do not. And mostly might be a few younger than I am, and then some older.

STUDENT: No children?

PO: In some places


MO: Some places they have, they have some children, yeah. Like Wootens’s at Antioch, they have quite a few young people up there.

JB: Their whole family does it, and they came down to Hoover Library last year and sang as a family. You may have seen that or for those in Birmingham. But they were some really good-

MO: Where you there? I was there.

JB: You were? Me too. There were some young people in that family, very young.

MO: Oh yeah, sure.

JB: Younger people, anyway. . . Anybody have any other questions that Mr. or Mrs.?

STUDENT: (question unclear)

JB: Would you sing a verse, would you sing a part of a song just by yourself? I know it is not the same thing.

MO: Would it be alright if I sung bass?


MO: I do not sing that high part.

STUDENT: I understand, just your part.


MO: I, I, I cannot go without the book. I guess it is like a walking stick. I have to have it. Just, I am going to pick one, say on thirty-two. It is a half-page song. You know how, how we do, when we, I do not have to do that, but to key it, you know.

JB: (Dr. Brown tries to key the song) I cannot do it. I will sing it with you.

MO: (Keys song) I am off key bad (laughter).

JB: Well do not blame it on me (unclear).

STUDENTS: We do not know!


MO: (Sings) (Applause) Do you want the words or do you want the notes?

JB: That is good. We went through, we tried to go through them with the shapes back up home, and you would have gotten a kick out of us (laughter). Trying to do it.

MO: Well

JB: They, they wanted to see how the shapes worked.

STUDENT: (unclear)

JB: This is a pro (laughs). I do not know if I can do the melody or not. I sing bass, too.

MO: You know what

STUDENT: Do you sing? Do you sing? (background talking)

MO: I have heard people who are a lot more into this than I have ever been.

JB: I cannot do the-

MO: Really thick book (unclear)

JB: “Wondrous Love” is still on 159?

MO: Alright, 159.

JB: Maybe I can do the melody on that. Do you, Mrs. Oliver, do you sing this, too?

MO: Yes, she does.

JB: She is (unclear). Well let me. What part does she sing? Will she sing?

MO: I do not know (unclear).


JB: Can we talk her into it?

MO: I do not know.

JB: You have your “Wondrous Love?” They have a Xerox copy of “Wondrous Love.”

MO: Alright, well everybody have one? Well I have got one, I think it is on 159 in this book.

JB: And if you can get your wife singing alto, then we will get three out of four parts.

MO: Yeah, it is the same thing in here, “Wondrous Love.”

JB: Alright. Well, you, you start us off and, and lead us and see if we can follow. You all remember the shapes now (laughter). Triangle, triangle is a fa, and a circle is a so, and a square is a la, and a diamond is a mi.

MO: We, we are singing the melody I mean now?

JB: Well, I-

MO: Or the notes?

JB: Let us sing the shapes.

MO: Alright.

JB: And do you want to do the base? We have practiced a little of the melody. (Background noise)

MO: She has got to bring out the books that I wore out. You see how many I have worn out?


JB: Yes, you have been through almost every edition, have you not?

MO: Every edition.

JB: Mrs. Oliver, can we talk you into doing the alto? We will make a stab at the melody.

PO: (Laughter) Let the kids play the melody (laughter).

JB: Well they are going to, but we need a little alto in it. It is in 159.


ALL: (Sings hymn “Wondrous Love,” first just the shapes and then the lyrics)

MO: This last verse, the fourth verse down here, and the chorus, says, and says “throughout.” I did not want that. Well some songs say say "through eternity, I’ll sing on," and say "throughout eternity, I will sing on." What about that? Some do not go along that in Sacred Harp.

JB: Is that right? I am surprised.

MO: They do not. They say there is “no through eternity” to it.

JB: It is just eternity?

MO: Would not be eternity. Why, that is like going through the house here on the 46:00out, other side. Now that is, course, “through,” in that unabridged dictionary, about that high and about that wide, little bitty, but, now if it is just “throughout,” I cannot handle that. I do not know. I just do not know it. But “through,” like birds, are hatched in the air. They fly through the air, and live in the air until they die, and never out of it. But eternity is a greater, larger thing than the, the atmosphere around the Earth.

JB: Well, these people that have a problem with those words, they just quit singing right here?

MO: They sing "in eternity, I live on."

JB: No matter what everybody else is singing, they-?

MO: Yeah. (Unclear) Nobody can tell it anyway (laughter). You cannot tell it anyway. But I, mean I am asking that for, for my own good now. I, I, I am not putting out no. . .

JB: You are not making a riddle out of it, are you?


MO: No, I, I, I am not trying to stir up any confusion about it. I am just wondering what about it. Well, I will tell you a little instance I had over at the church, New Bethel. It was a different song than this, but it had “through eternity” in there, "I Will Live On." And I pushed for a song that had it, and I picked that one out in the church book. And when I started back to sit down, why the preacher said there is no “through eternity” to it. Another fellow said no “through eternity.” Well, I felt silly (unclear). But I never did sing that song anymore (laughter). And I got. . .

(Tape runs out)


JB: Make some noise, otherwise, you sit there for ten minutes and you get the best story of the day when the, when the machine is off (laughter). Sorry.

MO: I was just throwing that in for good measure. Now I, I that is what I run in to, you know. You know, you have a lot of ups and downs in this world, and. . .

JB: But, the brotherhood and the sisterhood that I have seen at these singings is a, it is a better communion than I have at my church, I think, or that I see in most places.

MO: Well, I have heard that mentioned before. Do not know if you know the man, Mr. Lony Rodgers, over in Ephesus, Georgia.

JB: No.

MO: And he will get up, and he will talk, maybe. And he says, “I do not know of any group of people that loves one another any better than Sacred Harp singers." Now I have heard him say that. About the same words that I said, and I do not know if that would be true or not.


JB: Sounds like it depends on what song you pick (laughter).

(UNCLEAR SPEAKER): Have you all heard about singing the preacher down?

JB: Singing the preacher down. Have you ever heard of that? Singing the preacher down? If you have a preacher who is wound up, and it is time to go, somebody in the back will start the song, “The Sun Rises?” You know (unclear). Have you ever heard of that? Singing the preacher down?

MO: Well, I can tell you something happened not too long ago which is not hardly like that, but they called a man to direct the song, and he got up there, and he wanted to talk. He wanted to talk. I have heard him time and again, to get on the floor, and he has about the same speech every time.

JB: You have all heard it?


MO: All have heard it. I, I wanted to tell you who did it, Terry Wooten. He started off singing before the men got through (laughter).

(Unclear female speaker)

MO: Beg your pardon?

JB: Everybody else joined in?

MO: Yes (laughs).

MO: I should not have said that. I called his name, I should not have done that (laughter).

JB: He would have probably owned up to it (laughter).

MO: Maybe, he, he thought he was through, I guess (laughter).

JB: Mr. Oliver, we are out of time, and I- it grieves me. I would love to, maybe not you, you are probably glad to get rid of us.

MO: No, I am enjoying it. I am front and center! Now I am enjoying it (laughter).

JB: If I am going to get these people back for their supper time, I have got to let them take a break now. But, is there one last question from the group? A burning, burning question that had not been answered here? Okay.

STUDENT: Can you go all over in, into churches and sing? I mean, I mean

JB: Every Sunday

STUDENT: -go out of state?


JB: Do you go to Georgia to singings?

MO: Yes

JB: Do you go to Mississippi any, or?

MO: Never have been to one in Mississippi. I have been to Alabama and Florida, and Georgia, and Texas.

JB: But you can find one every Sunday?

MO: Just about, somewhere in that.

JB: In the Minutes book.

STUDENT: Are you invited, or do you, do you have a year or years where you make up a schedule, or what?

MO: Oh no. Well, I just, like a, like a big mule, just go ahead anyway (laughter).

JB: Well now, do you have to, like, like this Lookout Mountain Convention, do you have to kind of advertise it, and talk it up as you go to other singings, get up and announce it?

MO: Like, if I, if I go to one tomorrow, I, if I am the only one from this community, I will get up and announce it.

JB: Announce the Convention?

MO: Announce the Convention.

JB: You all be sure and come to-

MO: Yes, you have a special invitation, just like all of you all have.


JB: Now when you, when you go to a singing, you, you feel free just to go up and get dinner on the grounds when they have it there?

MO: Oh yeah, they, they give you a special invitation, come, just get it.

JB: Okay, because when everybody comes to your singing that you are going to take care of the dinner on the ground.

MO: More than welcome.

JB: Let me ask you this. This is something that has bothered me all the time. Now I am from Birmingham, and none of my churches do this, except sometimes the singing they have at Samford. But I go out to these singings, and they say, “Come have dinner on the grounds,” and I go. And the next Sunday I go, you know, and “Come have dinner on the grounds,” and I am never paying anybody back.

MO: Well, that is alright.

JB: I felt bad about that.

(Unclear female speaker)

JB: Well I have taken, I have taken some things before. It is not up to the quality that is on the table (laughter).

MO: I would not, I would not worry about that.

JB: Well good, I am glad to hear that (laughter). That solved, that solves a major problem.

MO: The main thing is, be there.

JB: I have never seen them run short of food at any of these.


MO: We, as far as I know, we never have over here. We had a table one time with hardwire cloth. We would roll it up and had two, two by fours at the end with the bolts in there that would clamp. And they would be tied to three at this end, or a post down there. I have seen the hard wire break one time at lunch.

JB: The wire, the wire break?

MO: The wire break, or something about it broke. And Hugh McGraw was there. And he got up and said, “I am going to give a twenty dollar donation if you all want to build a. . .”

JB: A real table?

MO: A real table (laughs). And we have a sign over there on the end of the table, “The Hugh McGraw Table” (laughter).


JB: Mr. Oliver, thank you for your time. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

MO: Well, you are more than welcome.

JB: Round of applause.

MO: You all can come back as many times as you all want to. 1

0:00 - A Sacred Harps' Upbringing and Singing School

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Partial Transcript: "Well, I do not remember that far back. I was born and raised in it. And that is about as far back as I can go. I guess twenty-seven in seventy-five years."

Segment Synopsis: Oliver talks about his upbringing in the Sacred Harps tradition and Sacred Harps singing school. He discusses the variety of singing parts and Sacred Harp hymn books.

Keywords: '91 Edition; B.F. White; Cane Creek; Collinsville, Alabama; Cooper Book; Denson Revision; J.L. White; J.L. White Edition; James Book; Rubens; Sacred Harp; White Book


11:49 - Disagreements, Sing-Ins, and the Draw of Sacred Harps Music

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Partial Transcript: "I would guess around early 1930s, or late 1920s. And they stopped them at the door, would not let them go in. So Daddy, he did not have a book like they had, and he just stayed outside."

Segment Synopsis: Oliver tells about the differing views in the Sacred Harps community. He discusses his experiences at sing-ins and what draws him to Sacred Harps music.

Keywords: '91 Edition; Ashville, AL; Birmingham, AL; Cooper Book; James Book; Old County Line Baptist Church; White Book


16:50 - Sacred Harps Worship

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Partial Transcript: "Sometimes, in south Alabama, where they use this book, they will sing until, say, eleven o’clock and might have an intermission before eleven. Then they have the preaching hour. And when the preaching hour is over, say, we will say twelve, they spread lunch, and then the rest of the day is singing."

Segment Synopsis: Oliver describes Sacred Harps worship.

Keywords: '91 Edition; Alabama; Bible; Cincinnati, OH; Folklife; Tennessee


29:30 - Favorite Hymn and the Sacred Harps Community

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Partial Transcript: "Well, it is that 224, I guess, would be my favorite in a sense. Back in World War II, I was, I guess you could call it a merchant seaman. I sailed across the planet, and I have been in storms. And one time we got in one and the rudder was in two positions, and it was so rough it broke one of them, and it just flopped over to one side. And they had to turn this one that way this way to keep it on even keel. And I do not know, it just seems like it appeals to me."

Segment Synopsis: Oliver talks about his favorite song and tells more about the Sacred Harps community and its activities.

Keywords: Collinsville, AL; Highway 11; Lookout Mountain Convention; Navy; Pine Grove Church; Pine Grove, AL; Virginia; Washington; World War II


37:02 - The Sacred Harps Demographic, Sing-In Attendance, and Shape Music Notes

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Partial Transcript: "Well it, well she, she was singing since two years old I guess, two, three years old, or getting up there. I do not know how well she was doing, but she was getting up there."

Segment Synopsis: Oliver responds to a few questions from students.

Keywords: Birmingham, AL; Hoover Public Library


39:22 - Oliver Sings Wondrous Love

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Partial Transcript: "Alright, well everybody have one? Well I have got one, I think it is on 159 in this book."

Segment Synopsis: Oliver and others sing "Wondrous Love".

Keywords: Wondrous Love


44:58 - Theological Implications in Hymn Wording

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Partial Transcript: "This last verse, the fourth verse down here, and the chorus, says, and says “throughout.” I did not want that. Well some songs say say "through eternity, I’ll sing on," and say "throughout eternity, I will sing on." What about that? Some do not go along that in Sacred Harp."

Segment Synopsis: Oliver talks about disagreement regarding the wording of some songs. He tells a couple of stories and responds to final questions from the students.



47:50 - Closeness in the Sacred Harps Community and Singing the Preacher Down

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Partial Transcript:

Segment Synopsis:

Keywords: Ephesus, GA


50:26 - Sacred Harps Hospitality and Announcing the Convention

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Partial Transcript:

Segment Synopsis:

Keywords: Alabama; Birmingham, AL; Florida; Georgia; Lookout Mountain Convention; Mississippi; Samford University; Texas


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