Sacred Harp Minutes

Querying Sacred Harp’s Sonic Past through the Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings, 1945–Present



Sacred Harp Minutes is curating an expanding collection of humanities research data from the proceedings of Sacred Harp singings in a queryable database, making it possible for scholars and singers to ask a range of new questions about how participants in this music tradition historically engage its repertoire across time and space. The database is a collaboration between Emory University, the University of West Georgia, the Sacred Harp Publishing Company (SHPC), and the Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association (SHMHA), and is directed by Jesse P. Karlsberg, Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) senior digital scholarship strategist and vice president of SHPC. The database will initially feature more than 15,000 singings from 1945–present, including data from fifty annual volumes recently digitized by Emory’s Digitization Program and more than twenty-five born digital volumes.

Access Sacred Harp minutes data from 1995–present.

The Minutes

Sacred Harp is a style of social hymn-singing in four-part a cappella harmony. A form of shape-note singing, the style adopts a music notation system that aids in sight-singing in which notes of different pitches feature different shapes corresponding with the syllables “fa,” “sol,” “la,” and “mi.” Singers use a tunebook titled The Sacred Harp at “singing conventions” where participants take turns leading the group in a song or two of their choice. Since the book’s first publication in 1844, secretaries have recorded and published “minutes,” listing the the names of leaders and page numbers of their chosen songs from The Sacred Harp at these singings. Published in an annual volume known colloquially as the “big minutes” since 1945, the minutes comprise a remarkably granular and comprehensive record of the decentralized lived experience of a music culture across its community of practice. Since 1995, this minutes book has been edited and published by SHMHA using a born-digital process.

The first phase of Sacred Harp Minutes involves the digitization, optical character recognition, and manual correction of the complete fifty-volume print run of the “big minutes” prior to its shift to a born-digital production process (1945–1994), drawn from four sources:

  1. Thirty annual volumes in the Pitts Theology Library Theology Reference collection published by SHPC and a consortium of Alabama singing conventions. These volumes date from 1961 and 1966–1994.
  2. Twelve volumes at the Annie Belle Weaver Special Collections of the Ingram Library of the University of West Georgia. These volumes date from 1952–55, 1957–60, 1962, and 1965.
  3. Four volumes held by the Sacred Harp Museum of the SHPC. These volumes date from 1947, 1950, and 1963–64.
  4. Six annual volumes in the private collection of Roma Rice and Margaret Keeton, Sacred Harp singers from West Alabama. These volumes date from 1945–1946, 1948–1949, 1951, and 1956.

The second phase of Sacred Harp Minutes will supplement the “big minutes” with records from dozens of smaller pamphlet-bound volumes produced by state, regional, and local Sacred Harp singing conventions and associations. Our team has already documented over 150 extant minutes pamphlets from more than twenty different singing bodies dating from 1913 to 2004 in the collection of the Sacred Harp Museum, in private collections, and at university and public libraries and archives.

Please let us know if you have copies of Sacred Harp minutes pamphlets you would be willing to loan for digitization!



All fifty volumes included in the first phase of Sacred Harp Minutes and more than 100 volumes in the second phase were digitized by the Emory Libraries Digitization Program. Volumes in the collections of the University of West Georgia, the Sacred Harp Museum, and private individuals were temporarily loaned to Emory for digitization. These volumes were digitized on a Kirtas book scanner and cropped, de-skewed, and binarized by the LIMB Software.

The resulting page images are being checked for completeness by a crowd-sourced team of volunteers drawn from the contemporary Sacred Harp singing community. Page images for each volume are then uploaded to the Tranksribus platform for layout analysis and text recognition. Project volunteers then manually correct the optical character recognition (OCR) results seeking to achieve diplomatic transcript–quality accuracy. This textual data will be published as it becomes available.

If you are interested in volunteering to help correct minutes text, please get in touch!

In tandem, project team members will agree upon and transform the textual information into a unified data format for both historical minutes being digitized for this project and born-digital minutes. The database will share a data model with SHMHA’s minutes submission and editing process, enabling the ingest of minutes from future years. Volunteers will then process the data to match the agreed upon database format, publish the format to the web, and develop an API so that others can easily access the data.



  • Karlsberg, Jesse P. and Mark T. Godfrey. “Greatest and Ungreatest Hits.” Presentation presented at the Camp Fasola Singing School, Double Springs, AL, and Anniston, AL, 2019.
  • Karlsberg, Jesse P., Nathan K. Rees, Mark T. Godfrey, and Robert A. W. Dunn. “‘In Sweetest Union Join’: Recovering, Identifying, and Sharing Historical Sacred Harp Recordings in Private Collections.” Panel presentation at the Association of Recorded Sound Collections Conference, San Antonio, TX, 2017.
  • Quinn, Ian. “Mapping Musical Taste in the Sacred Harp Community.” Presentation presented at the Analytical Approaches to World Music Conference, New York, NY, 2016.
  • Karlsberg, Jesse P., and Mark T. Godfrey. “Assessing Tempo in Practice: Analyzing the Correspondence of Sacred Harp Tempos to Historical Guidelines Using a Tempo Estimator.” Presentation presented at the Analytical Approaches to World Music Conference, New York, NY, 2016.
  • Karlsberg, Jesse P. “Querying the Sonic Past: Digitization, Data Design, and the Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings.” Presentation presented at the Inertia: Momentum Conference, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, 2016.
  • Karlsberg, Jesse P., Mark T. Godfrey, and Nathan Rees. “True Stories from the Sacred Harp Minutes.” Presentation presented at the Camp Fasola Singing School, Double Springs, AL, and Anniston, AL, 2013.


This project’s hosting and some other infrastructural costs are funded by two non-profit organizations, SHPC and SHMHA. The University of West Georgia’s Annie Belle Weaver Special Collections at the Ingram Library and the Sacred Harp Museum at SHPC loaned volumes from their collections to Emory for digitization. Emory University’s Pitts Theology Library, ECDS and Emory Libraries contributed technical expertise, digitized pre-1995 minutes volumes, and supported the project’s file-sharing infrastructure.

  • Margy Adams, community manager
  • Mark T. Godfrey, technical lead
  • Jesse P. Karlsberg, PhD, project director
  • Judy Caudle, SHMHA
  • Will Fitzgerald, PhD, GitHub
  • Nathan K. Rees, PhD, University of West Georgia and Sacred Harp Museum
  • Ian Quinn, PhD, Yale University
  • Chris Thorman, SHMHA
  • Brandon Wason, PhD, Emory University (Pitts)

Laura Akerman, Melanie Albrecht, Mairye Bates, Kevin Beirne, John Berendzen, Adam Berey, Stacey Berkheimer, Justin Bowen, Marie Brandis, Morgan Bunch, Steve Cackley, Judy Caudle, Leigh Cooper, Kate Coxon, Emily Crespo, Clarisa Fetrwo, Ann Riley Gray, Carol Huang, Sarah Huckaby, Stephen Hutcheson, Robert Kelley, Nancy Mandel, Dorothea Maynard, Marian Mitchell, Angela Myers, Michael Ruhl, Dawn Stanford, Melissa Stephenson, Mary Amelia Taylor, Tivey, Judy Van Duzer, and Micah John Walter.

  • Will Fitzgerald, PhD, technical lead (2021–22)
  • Sara Kaplan, volunteer coordinator (2021–22)
  • Allen Tullos, Wayne Morse Jr. (retired), Chase Lovellette, Michael Page, Stephanie Bryan (ECDS)
  • Lars Meyer, Kyle Fenton, Bonnie Jean Woolger (Emory Libraries Digitization Program)
  • M. Patrick Graham (retired), Richard “Bo” Manly Adams Jr., Brandon Wason (Pitts Theology Library)
  • Shanee’ Murrain (now of DPLA), Blynne Olivieri (Annie Belle Weaver Special Collections, University of West Georgia)
  • Myrna Layton (Brigham Young University Library)
  • Juncheng Yang (Carnegie Mellon University, Computer Science)
  • Sara Brumfield, Ben Brumfield (Brumfield Labs)
  • Hannah Alpert-Abrams (National Endowment for the Humanities)
  • Joel Chan (Wish)
  • David Ivey, Judy Caudle, Angela Myers (SHMHA)
  • Karen Rollins, John Plunkett, Michael Hinton (SHPC)
  • Roma Rice, Margaret Keeton, Buell Cobb, Judy Greene, Jeannette DePoy, Warren Steel