"A glorious place to praise the Lord"

This coming Sunday marks the 84th “Singing on the Mountain,” the gospel convention held annually at the base of Grandfather that over the years has featured such well-known personalities as Johnny Cash and the Reverend Billy Graham. As you may have gleaned from my earlier post on Happy John Coffey, Hugh Morton’s photos from “the Sing” are some of my very favorite in the collection.
The early images (from the 1940s-50s) are especially striking—beautiful, black-and-white portraits of old time mountain musicians and preachers that are so evocative of a particular time, place and culture. I just wish I knew more about the performers, speakers and attendees of the Sing. (Shouldn’t somebody write a book? I’ve got illustrations for you!)

The image above came in an envelope labeled as follows:

SINGING ON THE MOUNTAIN: Crowd shots, Grandfather Mountain in background. Significant fact of location at Grandfather of the Sing is that the mountaineers hold the mountain in high regard kin to worship. It is ‘The Mountain’ as far as they are concerned, because it is likely the most rugged in the East. The mountain folks get a feeling of altitude on it since Grandfather juts right up into nowhere with no other comparable mountains nearby to dwarf it. It’s [sic] altitude is 5964, which is 600 less than Mitchell, but Mitchell and others taller are rolling mountains with tall ones near, not jagged rock like Grandfather.

Can anyone help with identifications for the following two images?

The image below (which I love) shows Joe Lee Hartley, founder and longtime Chairman of the Sing, with an unidentified tiny performer. (This is a cropped version of the original). The poem below that (first and last stanzas only) was written by Hartley and appears in his “History of the Great Singing on the Mountain,” a circa 1949 pamphlet held by the North Carolina Collection.

Morning on the Grandfather Mountain
Composed by J. L. Hartley, Linville, NC
Morning on the Mountain
And the wind is blowing free
Then it is ours just for the breathing.
No more stuffy cities where we have to pay to breathe
Where the helpless creatures move and throng and strive to breathe.
Lonesome—well I guess not
I have been lonesome in the towns
Yes the wind is blowing free
So just come up into God’s beautiful country—
Get a breath and see.

11 thoughts on “"A glorious place to praise the Lord"”

  1. Once again, Elizabeth, I don’t have any definitive information about the images in this post, but in the July 6, 1946 issue of “The State,” there is a beautifully written story by Carl Goerch titled “Grandfather Has Its Annual Sing.”
    The article can be found on pages 3-5 and concludes on page 18. There are several Morton photographs with the article and the picture at the bottom of page 4 shows a trio singing. The gentleman in the center looks a lot like the gentleman in your image number three. (Check out his tie in both shots). Unfortunately, he isn’t identified in the magazine.
    Also, there is an interesting Sara Yorkley article (pages 6-7) about Joe Hartley in the September 25, 1943 issue of “The State” and in the July 31, 1948 issue there is a great Morton photo of Norman Cordon singing at the ’48 event (page 7).
    Finally, in Hugh’s 1988 book, “Making A Difference In North Carolina,” there is an entire chapter devoted to “Singing On The Mountain.” It runs from page 212 to 221.

  2. The fellow with the fiddle is Shoner Benfield. I do not know the accompanyist.
    The fellow with the glsses at the microphone was a member of the Johnson Family Singers. Little Betty Johnson was a featured performer on WBT radio and went on to develop a national following on Arthur Godfrey’s CBS network radio program.
    I want to be sure you have attribution for the quote that you used to title this post: “a glorious place to praise the Lord.”
    That quote comes from the words Roy Acuff spoke to me when I remembered myself to him back stage at the Grand Ole Opry five or six years after his appearance at the Singing. I told him we had met at the Grandfather Singing and his face lit up. “Oh yes,” he said, “what a glorious place to praise the Lord.”

  3. Elizabeth: To follow up on Catherine Morton’s post of July 5. Here are three sources for the Johnson Family Singers.
    Ironically, Kenneth Johnson’s wife, Evelyn, taught me senior English at Asheboro High School during the 1957-1958 school year, and as I recall, Kenneth substituted for her one day. (What a small world).

  4. There are two great Hugh Morton photographs of Roy Acuff…Page 216 of “Making A Difference in North Carolina,” and on page 151 of “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina.” Both are from Roy’s visit to “Singing on the Mountain” in 1975.

  5. In the last photo of Joe Hartley, the “unidentified tiny performer” is his granddaughter (my aunt), Susan Hartley Guinn (daughter of his son Paul).

  6. Heard from a family member of Shoner Benfield that the two women performing with him are his daughters, Edna Benfield Calloway and Ola Benfield Grey on guitar.

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