An Event that is 96 Going on 100
According to their website, "The State Annual Singing Convention, which brings thousands of people to Benson each year, began modestly in a tobacco warehouse in 1921. About 200 people listened to two choirs that day. Since that time, the State Annual Singing Convention has grown and become one of the largest and oldest gospel sings in the United States."
The picture below (left) is an old black and white photo capturing the early days of this almost 100 year old event that attracts participants and spectators from all over the southeast. This year's convention, nicknamed the Benson Sing, is expecting over 50 amateur, semi-professional and professional competitors. The other picture below (right) is what the singing grove will look like when you attend the event this year - sitting on almost 96 years of musical history.
You can visit the Benson Museum of Local History to learn all about the long history of the singing convention, including more information about its founders. But here's some interesting facts to get you started:
• S. P. Honeycutt, J. B. Raynor, T. C. Miller, J. V. Barefoot, and J. H. Rose were the 1921 founding fathers of the “sing.” When the old warehouse on Market Street was destroyed by fire in 1922 and the group had to find a new place to meet, Mrs. Catherine Benson, Honeycutt’s mother-in-law, donated an oak-shaded grove in the middle of town and the site became the permanent home of the State Singing Convention.
• In the first year of the sing Trinity Church Choir, lead by O.H. Barefoot, and the New Zealand Choir, led by Noah Blackman, tied in the competition. In the tie-breaker, the Silver Loving Cup was awarded to the New Zealand Choir by the judges.
• In 1943, during World War II, the organizers decided to cancel the competition. However, after notices were placed around the state in area newspapers and sent to area churches over 3,000 people showed up on the fourth weekend in June. Organizers proceeded with the competition to entertain the faithful followers of the Sing.
BYOLC - Bring Your Own Lawn Chair
The Ninety-sixth State Annual Singing Convention will be held Friday, June 24th through Sunday, June 26th in the Singing Grove, a beautiful city park at 400 East Main Street in Benson, North Carolina. No admission is charged, and people are encouraged to bring a lawn chair to sit and enjoy the music. On Friday, the following groups will each present thirty minute concerts starting at 7pm: Full Reliance, The Hinshaw Trio, Journey ‘N Faith, Divine Intention, Heaven’s Grace, and Maranatha Singers.
On Saturday The Inspirations will be featured in a special concert at 7pm with The Hickory Grove Quartet opening at 6:30pm. A household name in any musical genre, the Inspirations are models of consistency in the Southern Gospel Music field. They originated in 1964 when Martin Cook, a chemistry teacher at Swain County High in Bryson City, NC, and a few of his students and friends held nightly singing sessions in the basement of his home, purely for fun. A few of them decided to take their act on the road a few years later and immediately took Southern Gospel Music by storm. The Inspirations have remained at the forefront of the genre since, while achieving tremendous popularity and success. They make up a four-part harmony quartet with an unmistakable sound, striking the medium of traditional Southern Gospel and country.
As customary, informal (round robin) singing begins at 10am on Saturday and Sunday and continues daily with only two exceptions: (1) during group competition (2) during the special concerts by The Inspirations and The Hickory Grove Quartet on Saturday night. All groups are welcome and encouraged to sing in the contests. People are welcome to come out and watch at any time. On Saturday and Sunday competing junior and senior groups including duets, trios, quartets, families, and church choirs begin at 2 pm.
Sing Your Heart Out - How to Participate
If you're interested in participating instead of spectating, groups singing in Saturday’s competition are asked to fill out a registration form in the office in the Singing Grove by 1pm on Saturday. Groups singing in Sunday’s competition are asked to fill out a registration form in the office by 1pm on Sunday. There is no on-line registration this year. Please call, fax, or email if you have questions - contact information below. There are NO SOLOS due to time restraints. There is no entry fee to compete in the contests.
The State Annual Singing Convention, Inc. website, www.gospelsingingconvention.org, has important information for 2016. You can also visit them on Facebook at State Annual Singing Convention – Benson Sing. Please call (919)-894-4389, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for additional information.
If you're interested in more summer events, shows, and concerts in the Johnston County area, visit www.johnstoncountync.org/events.