“Perhaps the chief promoter and good will agent of Sacred Harp music.”
Hugh McGraw started Sacred Harp singing in about 1953, when he developed an instant strong enthusiasm, and persuaded a second cousin (his “Uncle Bud” McGraw, a singing school teacher) to teach him about Sacred Harp music. McGraw then became a Sacred Harp composer, several of whose songs appear in the 1960 and subsequent editions of The Sacred Harp.
He helped stem the decline of Sacred Harp singing in its original home territory in the American south by offering a great number of singing schools. He also made many gestures of friendship to newcomer singers, including those outside the South, and can be considered one of the factors responsible for the extensive geographic spread of Sacred Harp singing in recent decades.
He modernized the nonprofit company that publishes the “Denson” edition of the book, the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, and presided over the committees that created both the 1971 version and the current 1991 version of this edition.
Even though most Australian singers have not had the pleasure of meeting Hugh, his influence on our singings is very evident. He repeatedly urged new singers to adopt the traditional forms of the Southern singing convention, including the hollow square seating arrangement, rotating leading of songs, singing of the note names before the stanzas, and dinner on the grounds. Traditions that we follow in Australia.
Hugh McGraw died on 28 May 2017.
In Sydney we will honour his contribution to Sacred Harp singing by singing both his compositions and his favourite songs to call on Sunday 11 June.