Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings

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Funeral Service for Charlene Wallace

Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church, Carroll County, Georgia

Monday, October 21, 2019

At 11:00 a.m. on Monday, October 21, 2019, at Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church, south of Bremen, Carroll County, Georgia, Charlene Wallace took her final place in the alto section of the Sacred Harp singing square. It was at her funeral. She was surrounded by her dear family and many friends. Dozens of singers from across the United States and the United Kingdom came to sing and pay tribute to a true matriarch of Sacred Harp singing. Richard DeLong said that Charlene would want us to sing like we were at an all-day singing, and that’s what we did during the hour prior to the service.

Leaders: Richard DeLong 77b, 565; John Plunkett 225t; Karen Rollins 319; Phillip Langley 48t; Donna Garner Bell, Virginia Dyer, Dalton Lewis, Chance Cook, and Cain Cook 155; Blake Sisemore 39b; Rebecca Over 283; Judy Chambless and Robert Chambless 549; Bryan Black 122; Rodney Ivey 276; Philip Denney and Wyatt Denney 101t; Oscar McGuire 347; Helen Bryson 330b; Matt DeLong and Janice Paulk 317; Cassie Allen 171; Phil Summerlin 97; Matt Hinton, Erica Hinton, and Lottie Hinton 99; Pam Nunn and Rene Greene 228; Charles Woods 453; Jesse P. Karlsberg and Lauren Bock 85; Lela Crowder 499; Isaac Green, Daniel Williams, and Cecil Roberts 329; Nathan Rees 88b; Scott DePoy and Jeannette DePoy 159. Daniel Williams offered the opening prayer.

Richard DeLong talked about his life-long friendship with Charlene and her being a mentor to him and many other singers. She was a singer: with great skill, a wonderful sense of humor, and a very fine lady. She was stoic, and a very private person. Over our travels on the road, I watched her raise several nieces and nephews. She was a legendary cook. As a child Charlene remembered going to Holly Springs in a horse and wagon from Mt. Zion to Bremen. She became the caretaker of Holly Springs Church where she attended singings for approximately eighty-nine years. Richard told us about a story that Charlene had no fingerprints due to handling fabric for more than forty years at the Arrow Shirt factory in Bremen. He didn’t believe her and said, “Let me see?” Charlene agreed and sure enough, Charlene had no fingerprints! Charlene achieved many accomplishments in her lifetime. She served approximately fifty years on the Board of Directors of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, during which she was Secretary/Treasurer for about forty years. Charlene served forty-seven years as Secretary of the Georgia State Singing Convention. She participated in eleven recordings for the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, and was one of the four founders of the National Sacred Harp Newsletter. In 1967, she sang with a group of prominent singers for the World Expo in Montreal and she met Roy Acuff; in 1973 she went to Jerusalem/Holy Land; in 1976 Charlene sang on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the Pope; in 1982 she sang at the World’s Fair in Knoxville. Charlene was one of several who sang with Hugh McGraw for his award from the National Endowment of the Arts. In 2008, she went on a tour of England and sang at John Newton’s grave. She enjoyed taking part in the movie Lawless with her long black dress, high top lace up shoes and bonnet to match in 2011. Charlene appeared on ABC and NBC national news with Chris Wallace and Good Morning America on a segment at Holly Springs. Charlene traveled to the Midwest Convention in Chicago, where she was Chairlady. She traveled to St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, and various states in New England, and she traveled to thousands of rural and urban places all over the southeast promoting Sacred Harp singing. Richard mentioned that Charlene was a woman of strong character and constitution. He told a story of when her Papa (that’s what she called her daddy) was in the hospital at Tanner Hospital in Carrollton. He said I know it’s hard to believe but, Charlene slept on the tile floor with a sheet and blanket; then she would get up and shower and go to work at Arrow Shirt the next morning; then get off work and do it all again. When she had her thyroid taken out in 1969 at Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, she parked her car and was planning to drive home. After spending a couple of nights in the hospital, Charlene lugged her reel-to-reel player up to her room so she could hear some Sacred Harp. Richard said she later pointed out Mr. Cagle’s voice and Buford’s (McGraw) as well as her own and that he was blessed to be able to put some of the reel-to-reel tapes onto a CD. Richard stated that he was fortunate to have traveled for thirty-eight years with Charlene, Hugh (McGraw), Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard, and others on busses and planes across the U.S. promoting Sacred Harp singing. Charlene was well respected by Sacred Harp singers all over the world, and she will be sorely missed.

Rebecca Over began by saying: I knew Charlene for a very much shorter time than Richard and/or most all of you, but knowing her changed my life. I feel honoured and fortunate to have been able to call her my very special friend. But now as you could tell as soon as I opened my mouth that I’m not from around here. I actually live in the south of England. I first met Charlene at the National Sacred Harp Singing Convention in 2011. I had been singing all of two years. I made a short and very tentative visit to sing and above all to learn and improve my singing. She encouraged me to come along and sing in Georgia and my first ever Georgia singing was right here at Holly Springs the following June. Charlene took me under her wing and guided me as she did so many other new singers and singing alto became one of the greatest joys of my life. And I told her that. As a mentor and teacher, she had her very own unique ways of making things right. One time when I made a mistake in a song, when the song finished while our books were still open at that page she pointed to the note in question and said quietly, but firmly, “I think you and I have a difference of opinion about that note.” Another time she called me out on song 288. I was sitting there saying ‘trav-el-ing’ as many of us did in the U.K. and not the correct trav’ling. She put me right while we were singing. After that trip I returned to the U.K. and I passed along what she had taught. We have sung that song correctly ever since. Singing with Charlene had other benefits too. Like me, she felt the cold and disliked drafts but it only took a word or two from her for the fans above the alto section to be turned down or off or blasts of icy air conditioner to be made less cold. Rebecca mentioned how grateful she was for the help Charlene gave her with the history of the Mount Zion Memorial Singing. Rebecca spoke of riding to her first Georgian Harmony singing in Roberta: I rode to many singings with her and Hugh (McGraw) to Atlanta when I was not brave enough to drive to or was not familiar enough to take the wrong side of the road on my own. I may be the person standing here today but my story is just one of many. Charlene touched the lives of countless numbers of singers in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Poland, and Australia, other parts of Europe and beyond. I know that there were many singers all over the world holding you, her family and her friends in their hearts and remembering them in their prayers. Perhaps one of the greatest tributes that those of us who sing can pay to Charlene is to continue to sing the Sacred Harp music that she loved, to spread the word and to help and encourage new singers as she helped us. In that, and in the stories that we will continue to share, she will be remembered, honoured, and loved for years and decades to come.

Richard DeLong, Matt DeLong, and Nathan Rees led 274t. Helen Bryson led 339.

Jesse Roberts read Charlene’s obituary to those in attendance. He spoke about the importance of baptism, but stressed that it is not always necessary for someone who has led a good life or are believers to have been baptized to be sure of their place in heaven. Let’s turn to page 77b in the book. What does it say? “Lord, in the morning Thou Shalt hear my voice ascending high; To Thee will I direct my prayer to Thee lift up mine eye. O may the Spirit guide my feet in ways of righteousness; Make ev’ry path of duty straight and plain before my face.” What is this? It is a prayer. Charlene did not write those words, but she chose them for her tune. Jesse talked of memories of Charlene: one in particular was at the DeLong singing. Charlene had got into the building a little while after the singing began after lunch. She sat down in the tenor section. I knew exactly what she was doing; my mother taught me that the square was sacrosanct, that you did not enter the square or cross the square when someone was leading. As the song was finished, Charlene went to her chair (on the side next to the bass), and I used that opportunity to point her action out to my children and grandchildren who were there, he said. At some singing, and I can’t remember where it was, though I’m sure it wasn’t at Holly Springs, she led the notes and then sat down. People asked her why she did not sing the words. Her response was, “I’m done.” She did not criticize them, nor did she call down the class, but the entire front-row tenor just looked down at the floor. They had not followed her lead in the timing of the song, and they knew that she had reprimanded them. She was a mentor to my children. They had so many, but she was one of the strongest. Finally, she is singing a new song in heaven. She didn’t have any problem learning it. Revelation 5:9 talks about a glad new song. She is singing with us, along with Hugh, and Raymond, and all the other saints that have gone before; and don’t tell me that singing Sacred Harp isn’t worshiping God. She is with us while we sing. Jesse ended by quoting words from “Arnold”. The class sang 285t in lieu of a closing prayer, then 146 as the closing song, and the class was dismissed.

Director of Music—Richard DeLong; Secretaries—Donna Garner Bell and Rebecca Over