Awake My Soul The Story Of The Sacred Harp

Product Description. As seen on Public Television nationwide. 'Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp' is the first feature documentary about Sacred. A documentary about the Sacred Harp tradition which is kept alive by amateur singers in the South.

MP3: Sam Amidon – “Kedron”

Awake My Soul/ Help Me to Sing CD Pre-release Party

Atlanta Sept. 22- This Sacred Harp event gets kicked off with an instore appearance by several of the artists who contributed to Help Me to Sing at Criminal Records to be followed by a full show at the Earl on Sept 22:

Jim Lauderdale
Tim Eriksen
Sacred Harp Singers
Jeni & Billy
The Good Players
plus more special guests!

Presented by Paste Magazine

Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp is now streaming at An extended version of the film, plus hours of extras is available on a 2 DVD set from and in stores nationwide.


Awake, My Soul
is a feature documentary that explores the history, music, and traditions of Sacred Harp singing, the oldest surviving American music. While often linked only to its history, (e.g. the songs were used in the recent historical films “Cold Mountain” and “Gangs of New York”) this haunting music has survived over 200 years tucked away from sight in the rural deep south, where in old wooden country churches, devoted singers break open The Sacred Harp, a shape note hymnal first published in Georgia in 1844. These singers have inherited The Sacred Harp and its traditions from those who came before them and preserved these fierce yet beautiful songs, many of which are much older than the hymnal itself. And so they, like the early singers, begin each song by intoning syllables which are represented by each shaped note in their hymnal: fa, sol, la, and mi. To the casual observer, it is some foreign, unintelligible language, but to these Sacred Harp singers, it is the key that unlocks mysteries: songs of both beauty and sorrow, of life and of death, songs that cause feet to stomp and tears to flow, often at the same time. They are ancient sounds, which are at times disorienting to the modern ear, and yet they are sung with such passion and force that it becomes obvious that these songs are very much alive. Awake My Soul is a film that captures both the history and the vitality of a music that is utterly unlike any music most viewers are likely to have heard.

Insofar as Sacred Harp is among the earliest music in America, its history is incredibly rich. The narrative that emerges in this history is full of inspiring stories and of conflict, mostly with the cultural elites. In this way, the Sacred Harp tradition can be seen as being, on one hand conservative, in that it has preserved these old songs, and on the other hand, subversive, in that it has consistently repelled any attempts to tame or change it by the cultural and musical elites.

What is most moving about Awake, My Soul, however, is the singers themselves who wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to the songs they sing. These singers are surprisingly articulate, deeply thoughtful and often very funny individuals who are passionate about Sacred Harp singing. As Richard Delong puts it in the film, “We scheduled life around Sacred Harp singing. We didn’t schedule Sacred Harp singing around life.”

Over the course of 7 years, two Atlanta filmmakers, Erica and Matt Hinton, have painstakingly amassed hundreds of hours of traditional Sacred Harp singings in the southeast as well as interviews with the most prominent traditional Sacred Harp singers and composers.

Awake, My Soul is a wonderfully detailed quilt made up of historical material illustrated by rare archival images, interviews with singers who share their often moving personal histories, and the music itself, which is both earthy and otherworldly at the same time. It once was lost but now it’s found: This is the story of the Sacred Harp.


Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp is the first feature documentary about Sacred Harp singing, a haunting form of a cappella, shape note hymn singing with deep roots in the American south. Shape note singing has survived over 200 years tucked away from notice in the rural deep south, where in old country churches, singers break open The Sacred Harp, a 160 year old shape note hymnal which has preserved these fiercely beautiful songs which are some of the oldest in America. The film offers a glimpse into the lives of this ‘Lost Tonal Tribe’ whose history is a story of both rebellion and tradition. The filmmakers, Matt and Erica Hinton spent 7 years documenting this yet largely unknown art form.

The Hintons wanted to put together a soundtrack for their film that would provide an introduction to the songs of The Sacred Harp, and also they wanted to make the songs accessible for a new audience. They tapped an amazing list of artists to contribute to the project, including John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (who duets here with Rayna Gellert of Uncle Earl), Doc Watson, Elvis Perkins, Jim Lauderdale, Murry Hammond (of Old 97s), Danielson, Richard Buckner, The Innocence Mission, Rick Moody (author of Garden State and The Ice Storm), Woven Hand, Mac Powell (Third Day) and more.

“As a musician, it’s almost impossible to sing Sacred Harp without wondering what the songs would sound like in another context. That curiosity, combined with my desire to make Sacred Harp more known to a culture which has largely ignored it, led to the creation of Help Me to Sing. At its core, I see it as a way of opening a door to a musical tradition that very many people are unfamiliar with. As far as I’m concerned, Help Me to Sing is the hook. Real Sacred Harp singing, as heard on the Awake My Soul soundtrack… well, that’s the fish. It just so happens that in this case, even the bait wound up being extraordinary….” -Matt Hinton, co-director of Awake, My Soul

Disc 1: The Original Soundtrack of Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp, the critically acclaimed documentary as seen on PBS stations and featured on NPR, in TIME magazine, Pitchfork, The Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, The Oregonian, etc. The soundtrack includes traditional Sacred Harp singing, as recorded in rural Georgia and Alabama.

Disc Two: Help Me to Sing: Songs of the Sacred Harp performed by various artists. This is the first ever collection of popular music adaptations of Sacred Harp songs. Help Me to Sing includes 19 never before heard tracks which were specifically comissioned for this CD by the co-director of Awake, My Soul, Matt Hinton.


* While almost all of the songs included were written in the 18th & 19th centuries, the songs “Lloyd” (Awake My Soul OST) and “Christian’s Farewell” (Help Me to Sing) were written by a living songwriter, Raymond Hamrick, who, in his mid-90’s, continues to work as a watchmaker in the same shop he’s worked in since the 1930’s in Macon GA. Hamrick is featured prominently in the film Awake, My Soul and is widely considered to be the greatest living Sacred Harp composer.

* The little girl on the cover of Awake My Soul/ Help Me to Sing is Lorraine Miles. She was a 6 year old girl at a Sacred Harp singing in Mineral Wells, TX, when the photo was taken in 1930. During the final stages of production on Help Me to Sing, Murry Hammond (Old 97’s) mentioned in an off-handed manner that “she would be easy to find”, despite the fact that filmmakers Matt & Erica Hinton had spent the past 3 years looking out for her. Within one week, Hammond found her, alive and well, and living in Mineral Wells, completely oblivious to the fact that her potrait graced the cover of DVDs across the country. The following weekend, Lorraine Miles McFarland went to her first Sacred harp singing in over 70 years. She led a song and signed many autographs.

* The producer, and co-director of the film, Matt Hinton, is also known as a guitarist in the band Luxury and plays and sings on several tracks of Help Me to Sing


“If you’re a fan of American roots music, you won’t want to miss ‘Awake My Soul–The Story of the Sacred Harp.’ Filmmakers Matt and Erica Hinton have done a fine job capturing the history, sound and spirit of this unusual but compelling art form that, trust me, you don’t have to be religious to appreciate.”
-Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune

“‘Awake, My Soul‘ features some of the most raucous group vocals that have been recorded.”

“The film, and subject matter, is fascinating and informative. Traditions such as Sacred Harp singing run the risk of dying out, but filmmakers like the Hintons do a great service to the American musical, and historical, communities by fanning the embers to cause interest in this tradition to continue to burn brightly.”

“In the Hinton’s fine documentary: You get the feel of the people and the wonderful sound of the music, and thankfully without any condescension. As an introduction to Sacred Harp, it’s as amazing as the music itself.”
-Birmingham Weekly

-“‘Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp‘ is a fascinating history of a raw, overwhelming, unconventional form of Southern hymn singing.”
-The Oregonian

“Matt and Erica Hinton’s ‘Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp‘… succeeds in immersing the viewer in a deeply-rooted and uniquely American musical culture… ‘Awake, My Soul‘ captures amazing recordings of the style in churches all over the American South.”
-The Vanguard (Portland, OR)

Awake, My Soul / Help Me To Sing
(Awake Productions)
Street date: Oct. 14, 2008

Disc One: Awake, My Soul: Traditional Sacred Harp Singing from Georgia & Alabama

1. China
2. Russia
3. Stratfield
4. Jordan
5. Marlborough
6. Bear Creek
7. Abbeville
8. Corinth
9. Lloyd
10. Eternal Day
11. New Britain
12. Delight
13. Panting For Heaven
14. New Jordan
15. Restoration
16. Prodigal Son
17. Schenectady
18. America
19. Antioch
20. Norwich
21. Consecration
22. Poland
23. Idumea
24. Cowper

Disc Two: Help Me To Sing: Various Artists performing Songs Inspired by the Film

1 “Blooming Youth” – Rayna Gellert (Uncle Earl) & John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
2 “Weeping Pilgrim” – Elvis Perkins in Dearland
3 “David’s Lamentation” – The Good Players
4 “Africa” – The Innocence Mission
5 “The Christian’s Hope” – Jim Lauderdale with Jeni & Billy
6 “Help Me To Sing” – Mac Powell (Third Day)
7 “Columbus” – John Wesley Harding
8 “The Traveler” – Cordelia’s Dad
9 “Abbeville” – Liz Janes
10 “China” – All Things Bright & Beautiful
11 “Essay” – Tenement Halls
12 “Windham” – Richard Buckner
13 “Sermon on the Mount” – Danielson
14 “And Am I Born to Die?” – Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton
15 “Kedron” – Sam Amidon
16 “Consecration” – Woven Hand
17 “The Grieved Soul” – Rick Moody and Nina Katchadourian
18 “Vernon / Wrestling Jacob” – Tim Eriksen (Cold Mountain Soundtrack)
19 “Christian’s Farewell” – DM Stith
20 “Bound For Canaan” – Murry Hammond (Old 97’s)

To request a promo of the Soundtrack, DVD or to request an interview with anyone involved in the project, please contact Force Field PR.


General Info:


It’s almost a cliche for rock docs to urge viewers to play them loud, but the folk/gospel film Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp warrants turning up to 11 as much as any metal epic. Matt and Erica Hinton’s 2006 music documentary delves into the history and practice of Sacred Harp, an idiosyncratic form of choral music that can lay claim to being the original American form of popular song, surviving from pre-colonial times in rural churches whose walls still shake to its massed, massive harmonies.

It’s a stirring and thoroughly communitarian style in which all who attend take a turn leading the congregation, keeping time with their hands in the “hollow square” formed by the benches of altos, trebles, tenors, and basses.

“It’s just mind-blowing stuff,” says Matt Hinton, who came upon Sacred Harp as a teenager and has been singing himself for two decades. “It’s the sound of people singing together, not the sound of polished, professional voices. There’s no performance orientation to it at all. Most pop music presumes an audience; that’s the nature of the beast. In this case it decidedly presumes that there’s no audience, other than God.”

Long little known outside the deep South, Sacred Harp is being discovered by folk music aficionados and gaining a following across America and Europe, thanks in part to the Hintons’ film. We’ll have a full interview with Matt Hinton in an upcoming edition of MFW’s The Ask, but ahead of this weekend’s screening of the film at the Leeds International Film Festival, we asked him to pick some clips to give novices a sense of Sacred Harp. (The first two come from the Awake, My Soul special edition DVD.)

Talking by phone from Atlanta, where’s busy opening a second outlet of his popular restaurant Bell Street Burritos, Hinton warns that the videos “don’t do justice to Sacred Harp singing.” For that, you really have to enter the hollow square. But the big screen is always better than the online clip, and those attending the November 5 Leeds screening can also get a small taste of the real thing with a post-film workshop led by a member of UK Sacred Harp chorus Breakspear Southern Harmony.

“Bridgewater,” Henagar Union Sacred Harp Convention, Henagar, Alabama

“That’s just a beautiful song,” Hinton says. “Bridgett Hill, who is the leader in that, I think she’s so graceful and so gracious in the way that she leads it. She’s a strong leader and it was a strong class, as we call them, a class of singers. It’s at the Liberty Baptist Church in Henagar, which is where the soundtrack to the film Cold Mountain was recorded, in that room, by a lot of those singers. You couldn’t ask for a better group of Sacred Harp singers.”

Hill is one of the very few black singers in Awake, My Soul, something I ask Hinton about. “It’s not an issue that I wanted to emphasize, because it’s not the subject of the film, but there are really interesting things that can be said about it. There was a fellow named Judge Jackson who in the 1930s published a revision of the Sacred Harp [songbook] called The Colored Sacred Harp. He himself was black, and his associates were as well, and they added their own compositions to his revision. There has almost always been a tradition of Sacred Harp singing in black churches in the South, but I would say it has died out far more, far far more, than in the white churches.”

“Save, Lord, or We Perish,” also from Henagar

“The leader there is Reba Dell Windom. who is from a longstanding Sacred Harp tradition in Alabama. You’ll notice about halfway through that song, she’s holding her book for no apparent reason, because she obviously doesn’t need it, and she hands it to somebody in the front row of the tenor section, because it’s just in her way. That’s something that happens almost every time she leads. She’s very at home in the hollow square.

“The key [to leading] is, on one hand it’s good to have your own style, but what everybody values as being most important is a communicative leading ability. If it’s not communicating plainly where the one, the two, the three, and the four are in the beat, then it’s a failure, no matter how awesome the look. It is a skill to be learned. The people in the clips have really developed that skill well. And it’s not nearly as easy as you think. It looks like it’s fairly straightforward, just moving your hand up and down, but I can’t tell you how many really musically educated people – who have PhD’s in music, conducting and so on – have come to Sacred Harp singings and have fallen on their faces trying to lead a song.”

“Hebrew Children,” UK Sacred Harp Convention, Stannington, England

Sacred Harp’s roots are English; its progenitors came to North American as settlers. In recent years it’s returned, “in the slightly mundane way you would expect,” Hinton says, “which is that people who are into folk music heard it and began singing it.”

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This song was recorded at last year’s UK Sacred Harp Convention in Stannington, about 35 miles south of Leeds. “It’s become a singing that can really stand on its own. There are a number of songs from that convention that are on YouTube. One thing I like about it is that for those people who are interested in folk music, the tune from ‘Hebrew Children’ is almost the same tune as [an old English] folk tune that I know as ‘Byker Hill.’ It’s just a great minor key song.”

“Nearer My God to Thee,” Mount Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Stroud, Alabama

Hinton explains that Sacred Harp has two primary songbooks, the Cooper revision, or “blue book,” and the Denson revision, or “red book.”

Cheat point blank terbaru. “The book that is pretty much addressed exclusively in our film is the red book. Whereas the Denson revision contains very little that could be called gospel music, the Cooper book contains any number of songs which are, I would say, in that period between the sacred harp on one hand and gospel on the other hand.

“And so you have songs like ‘Nearly My God to Thee.’ The arrangement of it in the Cooper book is stunning – I think it’s just great. Very often Cooper book singings tend to be a bit slower, maybe a bit more contemplative, and ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ is a prime example from that book. In part that’s the prerogative of the leader, but in large measure I think it’s just because the harmonies are so lovely. Who among us wouldn’t want to stretch them out?”

MusicFilmWeb is a media partner of the Leeds International Film Festival. For more on the music documentaries screening at Leeds, visit our LIFF special section.