Shape Note Singing in Florida

“Florida Storm”: The Miami Hurricane of 1926
4th Grade Lesson Plan

CPALMS Reviewed and Approved

This lesson has been reviewed and approved by CPALMS.

Shape Note Singing

American shape note singing is a tradition that goes back to the New England singing schools of the 18th century. It is an easy method for learning written music and was intended to replace lining out – the call and response form of singing in which a leader chants each line of a hymn to the congregation before it sings them.

Shape note singing in Florida can be traced back to the mid-19th century, shortly after the publication of The Sacred Harp. The tradition was strongest in the Panhandle area but extended all the way into Hillsborough County and throughout Central Florida. The West Florida Sacred Harp Singing Convention, started in 1869, is the state's earliest shape note convention on record.

Four shapes represent the seven notes of the major scale. The first three notes of the scale are represented by a triangle, circle and square. These shapes correspond with the syllables "fa," "sol" and "la." For the fourth, fifth and sixth notes of the scale, the shapes and syllables are repeated. For the seventh note, also called the leading tone, a diamond is used with the syllable "mi." The complete scale would read as follows: fa, sol, la, fa, sol, la, mi, fa.

Florida Storm: Commemorating the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926

African-American shape note singers were likely singing from The Sacred Harp as far back as the Reconstruction Era. Like white singing communities, African-American singing communities adopted seven-shape gospel singing alongside four-shape traditions. Though the Cooper Book was primarily used, African-American singers also sang from The Colored Sacred Harp, which was compiled by composer Judge Jackson and published in 1934.

“Florida Storm” was written by Judge Jackson in 1928 to commemorate the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. It is probably the most frequently sung selection from The Colored Sacred Harp.

The prosperity of the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s came to a screeching halt in late September 1926. The catastrophic storm known as the “Great Miami Hurricane” made landfall near Miami Beach in the early morning hours of September 18, 1926. With winds in excess of 150 miles per hour, the hurricane cut a path of destruction from South Beach to Moore Haven (on Lake Okeechobee) to the Tampa Bay area. The storm made a second landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Weather Bureau officials were unprepared for the swift moving hurricane, which exhibited few telltale signs before slamming into South Florida. The citizens of Miami and the surrounding communities were equally surprised by the rapid advance of the storm. The devastation left in the wake of the hurricane prompted one Weather Bureau official to call the storm the “most destructive in the history of the United States.” Officials estimated the storm destroyed 4,700 homes in South Florida and left 25,000 people without shelter. The long-term impact of the Great Miami Hurricane became apparent in the months and years to come as the real estate bubble burst, and Florida plunged into an economic depression some three years in advance of the rest of the nation.

This recording comes from the 1980 convention of the Southeast Alabama and Florida Union Sacred Harp Singing Convention held at the Bethel C.M.E. Church in Campbellton, Florida. The song leader in this performance is Henry Japheth Jackson, the son of the composer. The first verse begins at 1:33. Jackson pauses in the middle of the recording (at 3:26) to explain the history of the song and to encourage the congregation to sing with heart.

 

FLORIDA STORM

Composed by J. Jackson, July 18, 1928

1. Sep-tem-ber Eight-eenth, Nine-teen Hun-dred and Twen-ty-six, The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm, Their cries were too late their cry-ing was in vain, Cry-ing Lord have mer-cy, in the storm.
2. A pit-y and a shame all the peo-ple in the rain, But God show'd His mer-cy in the storm, It was ver-y sad that they lost all they had, Cry-ing Lord have mer-cy in the storm.
3. The wind with a might-y sound laid man-y build-ings down, But God show'd His mer-cy in the storm, Night comes on you know they had no-where to go, Cry-ing Lord have mer-cy in the storm.
4. The streets were all a mess it was so no one could pass, Moth-ers look'd for chil-dren in the storm, Fa-thers tried in vain it was a shame I know, Cry-ing Lord have mer-cy in the storm.
5. The doc-tors got the news so man-y that were bruised, To-geth-er with the Red Cross on the train, They all came in haste to see a-bout their case, Cry-ing Lord have mer-cy in the storm.

CHORUS
The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm, The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm, The col-ored and the white stay'd a-wake all the night, Cry-ing Lord have mer-cy in the storm. Storm.
The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm, The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm, The col-ored and the white stay'd a-wake all the night, Cry-ing Lord have mer-cy in the storm. Storm.
The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm, The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm, The col-ored and the white stay'd a-wake all the night, Cry-ing Lord have mer-cy in the storm. Storm.

 

Objectives

Students will:

  • Listen to a recording of "Florida Storm," a shape note song from The Colored Sacred Harp.
  • Analyze the lyrics of "Florida Storm."
  • Discuss the meaning of the song.

Materials Needed

  1. Recording of "Florida Storm" from the 1980 Southeast Alabama and Florida Union Sacred Harp Singing Convention
  2. Sheet music for "Florida Storm," by Judge Jackson, 1928
  3. Sound Recording Analysis worksheet from the National Archives

Procedure

Part I: Introducing Content

  1. Activate prior knowledge. Review with students what they already know about congregational and community singing in Florida.
  2. Give background information.
    • Shape note singing was designed to be easy to use by large groups of people who might not be skilled in reading music.
    • The notes of the scale are represented by a triangle, circle, square and diamond.
    • Singers call out the names of the notes (fa, sol, la, fa, sol, la, mi, fa) in tune before singing the words to the songs. This is called singing the shapes.
    • In addition to the Revised Cooper Edition of The Sacred Harp, African-American singers also sang from The Colored Sacred Harp, compiled by composer Judge Jackson.
    • “Florida Storm” was written by Judge Jackson in 1928 to commemorate the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. It is probably the most frequently sung selection from The Colored Sacred Harp.
    • This recording comes from the 1980 convention of the Southeast Alabama and Florida Union Sacred Harp Singing Convention held at the Bethel C.M.E. Church in Campbellton, Florida. The song leader in this performance is Henry Japheth Jackson, the son of the composer.

Part II: Document Analysis

  1. Introduce the recording. Some questions you might ask:
    • What do you think the recording will sound like?
    • What are some things you expect to hear?
  2. Give students copies of the sheet music for "Florida Storm."
  3. Play the recording for students while students complete the Sound Recording Analysis worksheet.
  4. The instructor might want to repeat the section at 3:26. Here, Henry Japheth Jackson (song leader and son of the composer) explains the history of the song and encourages the congregation to sing with heart.

Part III: Synthesis

  1. Have students work in small groups to compare notes and discuss any gaps in their understanding.
  2. Have the small groups share their findings and any questions they might still have.
  3. Answer the worksheet questions as a group and note any questions still outstanding.

Extension Activity

Share a first-hand account of the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 with the students. Discuss any similarities or differences between the letter and the song.

Next Generation Sunshine State Standards

  • SS.4.A.1.1: Analyze primary and secondary resources to identify significant individuals and events throughout Florida history.
  • MU.4.H.1.1: Examine and describe a cultural tradition, other than one's own, learned through its musical style and/or use of authentic instruments.
  • MU.4.H.2.1: Perform, listen to, and discuss music related to Florida's history.

Florida Standards

  • LAFS.4.RI.1.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.2: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.3: Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.