Benjamin Franklin White

Benjamin Franklin White (September 20, 1800 - December 5, 1879) was a shape note "singing master", and compiler of the shape note tunebook known as The Sacred Harp. He was born near Cross Keys in Union County, South Carolina, the twelfth child of Robert and Mildred White.


Musical career

Missing image
Four shape system of notation

White and Elisha J. King published The Sacred Harp in 1844, using the four-shape shape note notation. In 1845, he led in the establishment of the Southern Musical Convention. In 1850, White issued a second edition of The Sacred Harp, adding 97 songs and 103 pages. E. J. King died in 1844. With the 1850 and future editions, White was assisted by a musical committee appointed by the Southern Musical Convention. In 1859 a third edition of The Sacred Harp was released, adding 74 more songs on 63 pages. A fourth edition came out in 1869. For the first time, in this revision White replaced old songs with new ones, rather than simply adding the new songs to the back of the book. A year later, he released a copyright of the same book signed only by himself and his son, D. P. White, perhaps clarifying ownership. In 1911, White's youngest son, James Landrum White, reissued this fourth edition with a supplement of newer gospel songs.

In 1852 B. F. White established and became editor of the first newspaper published in Harris County, The Organ. This served as the outlet for the early publication of a number of the songs that ultimately appeared in subsequent editions of The Sacred Harp. Aside from the goal of edifying his readers and increasing their interest in Sacred Harp singing, White may have been using the newspaper as a way of conveniently obtaining multiple copies of a newly prepared song, much as Sacred Harp singers today use copying machines for the same purpose. A few Sacred Harp songs to this day appear in the W. M. Cooper edition of the book with the mysterious notation "For the Organ". This notation, otherwise baffling in a tradition that could not be more firmly a cappella, apparently simply indicates the original venue of publication.

White also served as Clerk of the Inferior Court of Harris County, and mayor of Whitesville, Georgia.

B. F. White is buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.

Family life and descendants

Benjamin F. White married Thurza Melvina Golightly on December 30, 1825. William Walker, publisher of the Southern Harmony, married Thurza's sister, Amy. The Whites moved to Harris County, Georgia in 1842.

To B. F. and Thurza were born nine children: William Decatur, David Patillo, Robert H., Mary Caroline, Nancy Ogburn, Thurza Melvina, Benjamin Franklin, Jr., James Landrum, and Martha America. Of these, David Patillo, James Landrum, and B. F. Jr. grew up to be prominent figures in Sacred Harp singing.


  • A Brief History of the Sacred Harp and Its Author, B. F. White, Sr., and Contributors, by Joe S. James, privately printed, 1904.
  • A Chronological History of the Life of Benjamin Franklin White ( (unpublished), by Donald Stephen Clarke
  • History of Harris County, Georgia 1827-1961, by Louise C. Barfield, Columbus Office Supply Company, 1961.
  • History of Spartanburg County, by J. B. O. Landrum, Franklin Printing and Publishing Co., 1900.
  • The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music, by Buell E. Cobb, Jr., University of Georgia Press, 1978, 1989.
  • White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands, by George Pullen Jackson, University of North Carolina Press, 1933.

External links

  • A biography ( by William J. Reynolds, from the Web site "Sacred Harp Singing in Texas".
  • B. F. White ( - from Cyberhymnal
  • Picture of B. F. & Thurza White (

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