William Walker

Baptist song leader and shape note "singing master"


May 6, 1809
September 24, 1875
Related topics
Anthems, Kentucky--Benton, Music--Instruction and study, Choruses, Sacred (Mixed voices), Unaccompanied, Hymns, English,


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Walker was born in Martin's Mills (near Cross Keys), South Carolina and grew up near Spartanburg. He married Amy Golightly and died in Spartanburg in 1875.

In 1835, Walker published a tunebook entitled The Southern Harmony, using the four-shape shape note system of notation. In 1846 he came out with The Southern and Western Pocket Harmonist, intended as an appendix to the Southern Harmony. In 1866, he published another tunebook entitled Christian Harmony, in which he changed from four shape to seven shape notation. He incorporated over half of the contents of The Southern Harmony in the Christian Harmony. For the additional three shapes, Walker devised his own system - an inverted key-stone for "do", a quarter-moon for "re", and an isosceles triangle for "si" (or "ti"). Editions of the Christian Harmony are still available printed with Walker's system, as well as in the more common shapes patented by Jesse B. Aiken. The standard four shapes, the Aiken and Walker seven shapes, and other shape note systems may be viewed at What are the Shapes and Why?.

Walker is listed as the composer of many of the tunes in The Southern Harmony. However, he acknowledged that in many cases, he borrowed his tunes, probably from the living tradition of folk music that surrounded him. In working from original tune to finished hymn, Walker borrowed lyrics from established poets such as Charles Wesley (a common practice in his tradition) and added to the tune just a treble (upper) part and a bass, creating three-part harmony.

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