When the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia began its research into the music traditions of western Georgia, no one could predict what we would find. A treasure chest of jewels, the artists from the West Georgia region illustrate a variety of southern music traditions. Our research soon revealed the strong religious influence that permeates much of the region’s music. After producing two CDs that explored a range of local music genres, we turned to focus more exclusively on these sacred and gospel traditions.
This CD, Set Your Fields on Fire, Volume 2, contains sacred music from both the white and African-American communities of western Georgia. We drew upon historic recordings of groups performing in the region throughout the twentieth century beginning with the Allen Quartet in the 1920s, one of the first gospel artists from western Georgia to record. Several of the tracks showcase musicians and singers who performed live on Carrollton’s first radio station, WLBB. The selections from Alton Stitcher, the Akers Trio, the Holmes Family, the Velvetones, Maumina and Pam, the Sewell Singers, and the Hite Family, which comprise some radio and some home recordings, illustrate the array of southern gospel music popular in the community from the late 1940s, when the station opened through the 1990s.
These rich music traditions offer insight into the values and beliefs of the community. Many of the groups featured here are family ensembles, through which singing traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. Artists also recall their roots in shape-note and church singings, which taught them the harmonies still so popular in gospel music. Musicians incorporated into their repertoire selections from the old gospel song books popular in the early twentieth century as well as more contemporary songs. Some of these artists performed live on local radio stations, providing greater visibility for their groups. Few groups became professional artists, yet music was still a powerful calling. Through their music, these artists could pursue their passions and share their religious beliefs with their community.