Lena Davis, better known as Sister Lena to many, has put tireless effort into continuing her mission of bringing hymn singing back into the church. Since 1997 she has devoted herself to the tradition of shape-note singing by organizing, teaching, managing, and promoting the Community Workshop Choir in Anderson County, South Carolina. This choir is made of more than thirty members that derive from nineteen African American churches in the county. Davis diligently promotes the shape-note tradition in the choir and arranges practices, concerts, and has even organized the production of a Workshop Choir CD. Sister Lena has expanded her influence of shape-note singing both to the local religious community and to the larger arts community in the state.
The invention of the “shape-note” method of reading music was an important thread in American musical history. Introduced in the late 1700s, shape-note hymn books printed notes with a different shape (ie square, triangle, diamond) for each degree of the scale. Associated with the revivals of the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s, shape-note hymnals were printed throughout the eastern United States, and the method was taught by itinerant singing school masters. In the Southeast, shape-note singing was adopted by both European-American and African-American congregations.
Through numerous performances and concerts at various festivals, Davis is able to raise awareness and consciousness for this uncommon, yet exceptional, singing style. Not only does Sister Lena and her choir sing, they are able to explain the history and social significance of shape-note music. Davis proves she never tires in her pursuit to bring shape-note singing to both the religious and arts community in the Upstate, and she is always eager to teach anyone interested in her music, whether it be the young or the old. Davis received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2006.
Audio (View Transcript)
"I'll Sing His Praise" (01:44)
"What a Happy Time" (02:25)