“Like Cords Around My Heart”: Sacred Harp Memorial Lessons and the Transmission of Tradition

Sacred Harp singing is a participatory American vernacular hymnody tradition with historical roots in New England and the rural South. This article addresses “memorial lessons,” ritualized lament speeches that play a key role in transmitting community values to new singers. Because of their reliance on oral tradition, their emphasis on memory and personal relationships, and their emotionally charged juxtaposition of speech and song, memorial lessons define, confirm, and perpetuate particular conceptions of “traditional singing.”