Southwest Texas Convention

By: Jacinta Rivera

Type: General Entry

Published: May 27, 2015

Updated: August 18, 2015

Established on April 28, 1900, at the Round Top School in McMahan, Texas, as the South Union Singing Convention, the Southwest Texas Convention (also known as the Southwest Texas Sacred Harp Singing Convention) is held at the Bethel Primitive Baptist Church in McMahan during the first fifth Sunday weekend of each spring.

The Southwest Texas Convention features what is known as sacred harp music, which is religious folk music sung a capella in four-part harmony and using a Sacred Harp songbook. Sacred harp conventions, which are held throughout the country, typically are community-based social events that attract participants from all age groups. Sacred harp music originated as part of the singing-school movement in New England during the late 1700s. It quickly spread across America, especially throughout the rural South.

The name “sacred harp” comes from Benjamin Franklin White’s tunebook called The Sacred Harp, which was first published in 1844. White continued to revise this book until his death in 1879, and others would add to it over the years. Currently there are two books which are most commonly used in sacred harp singing. The first is The B.F. White Sacred Harp, which was revised by W.M. Cooper and is most often used in Texas. The second is the 1991 edition of The Sacred Harp. The repertoire of sacred harp singing includes four basic styles: English and European psalms from approximately 1550–1850; songs by American composers, especially from New England, written between 1770–1810; tunes composed or arranged by southern American composers from 1810–1900, “including many adaptations of popular or traditional songs, marches, dance tunes, and camp-meeting spiritual songs”; and songs written by twentieth-century composers based on these earlier styles.

Although the Southwest Texas Convention is one of the oldest and best-known in Texas, there are also sacred harp conventions held regularly in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas. In addition, sacred harp music is celebrated outside of the United States in Canada and the United Kingdom.

History and Record of South Union and Southwest Texas Sacred Harp Singing Convention (, accessed August 23, 2015. Sacred Harp Singing in Texas (, accessed August 23, 2015. Warren Steel, “Sacred Harp Singing FAQ” (, accessed August 23, 2015.

  • Music
  • Events and Festivals
  • Religion

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jacinta Rivera, “Southwest Texas Convention,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 27, 2015
August 18, 2015

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