This surprisingly poetic account of an all-day singing was submitted sometime in 1941 to the Works Project Administration by a Mississippi writer working on the “America Eats!” project .
There is an old axiom that fighting and feuding are easily plowed under with food and song. Certainly, a man can stand up by his neighbor and sing “Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound!” and then turn around and feud with him about a hog, a dog, or a fence line.
Not a Mississippi man, anyway. For, although a Mississippian gets tempered up in a hurry, he is also believed to be form with a prayer in his heart, a song on his lips, and an unwavering appetite for picnic food. All day singing with dinner on the ground has come to serve him as “hatchet-burying” time as well as a singing and easing session.
In one section of the state there is a tri-county singing association that meets twice a year, and when that group of voices bears down the mules hitched below the hill start in to bray. From the first notes that are sung until the last leader calls for “God Be With You Till We Meet Again,” singing sometimes throughout the day.
In the church the women sit on one side of the house, the men on the other. Those who read shaped notes take their seats on the front rows. The first leader calls out a number from his Sacred Harp song books and sets the pitch. He asks for the tune and the church house rings with the “fa, sold, la” of the Mississippian scale. The words come next and each leader tries to extract from the willing class its best.
As the morning wears on the women present who say they don’t “sing a stitch” prepare the table for dinner. Near noontime, the smell of food begins to compete with the swell of rhythm. And when a tune as familiar as “On Jordan’s Story Banks” falls off, even the leader knows that it’s time for the Sacred Harp to be laid aside. He solemnly closes the book and announces that dinner will be served outside.
On the improvised tables the women have spread food for the hungry and weary vocalists. Chicken seems to be the songbirds’ meat for it is evident in great quantity and variety. There is chicken pie, crisp fried chicken, country fried chicken with gravy, broiled chicken, baked chicken, chicken giblets, and hard-boiled eggs. There are baked hams and country sausage, and no all-day singing dinner is just right without potato salad. Homemade summer pickle, peach pickle, and pickle relish eat mighty well with all this, and there’s plenty of cold biscuit and homemade light bread.
The best cooks of the community bring their cakes and pies and a man was hard put to choose between apple pie and devil’s food cake with coconut icing. It may be that he will pass them both up for jelly cake, especially if it is a ten-stacker.
Singing is resumed after dinner, but it takes a potent leader to get much spirit into the mind right after such a meal. But song finally takes hold again, and the singing of “Sweet Morning” takes on added meaning. The final number is heard at sundown, and the courting couples wander up from the spring to join their folks for the trek home.
It is a quiet leave-taking, without many spoken good-byes. Those had already been said when the last leader asked for the words” “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.”