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Published on October 4th, 2018 | by Millennium Magazine Staff


“Shape Note and Jubilee Singing” Receives Grants

Pictured Claudia Williams and Naomi Samuel received grants from the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Initiative South Carolina Arts Commission, Columbia, SC.

Claudia Williams and Naomi Samuel have been awarded a $2000 and $500 grant respectively by the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Initiative South Carolina Arts Commission for the 2019 fiscal year. The support will allow these individuals the opportunity to promote the tradition of “Shape Note and Jubilee singing”, by introducing the history of shape notes and facilitating the teaching and training of the notes and related subjects.

This grant project will focus on the musical rudiments; being aware of where to find your notes, what your notes sound like, identifying where you need to be in the music and the basics of understanding shape note notation system.  We will address aspects of choir decorum; punctuality, appropriate dress and choir conduct are a few facets that will be addressed.

This genre of singing was one of the things that distracted our forefather’s mind from the thoughts of the dangers of life; be it real or perceived. There are very encouraging words in these songs and hymns.   Singing these songs and hymns gave them hope and these are the things that can bring us through.  We hope to ignite a fire and keep it going and draw some younger folks in to pass the torch of Shape Note/Jubilee singing.

Like many cultural traditions, if Jubilee/Shape Note singing is not practiced or implemented in our lives, it will become extinct; a foreign language. I feel that would be an injustice to our communities and this society to allow such a tradition to become nonexistent.

Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Initiative of South Carolina Arts Commission are able to make these awards with generous funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Folklife & Traditional Arts Organizational Project grants are available to non-profit organizations, or organizations working with a fiscal agent, i.e. in the case where your organization is not a non-profit. And we have Quarterly Project Grants—these are grants that might be of interest, as a way of supporting your work. Here are links:

Quarterly Grants—the deadlines are quarterly, the next one being Wednesday

Folklife & Traditional Arts Organizational Project Grant—the next deadline is March 15th 

About The South Carolina Arts Commission

The South Carolina Arts Commission is the state agency charged with creating a thriving arts environment that benefits all South Carolinians, regardless of their location or circumstances. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants and leadership initiatives in three areas: arts education, community arts development and artist development. Headquartered in Columbia, S.C. the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit or call (803) 734-8696.

Claudia Golden Williams, Native of South Carolina, and lifelong member of Brookland Baptist Church.  Her love of singing was developed by singing along with her Grandmother, Father and Aunt on the Jubilee Choir. As a young adult, she honed her singing and solo skills on the Senior Musical Choir, so it was a natural transition as she matured, to join the Jubilee choir. On the Jubilee Choir, Claudia held positions not only as soprano singer and soloist, but as an officer and later choir leader. She first began learning to sing shape note about twenty years ago.

Our current choir president is from the Edgefield-McCormick (South Carolina) area, and he invited us to come to a Springfield Singing Convention. At first, shape note was a funny sound to our choir, unfamiliar. But then, as we got to know it, we saw the importance of learning shape notes and incorporating it into our style of singing.

Claudia has been the Brookland Baptist Jubilee Choir Leader for over 12 years. Commitment and perseverance is her motivation. She believes everybody can be taught to sing.; especially Shape Note singing. She realizes people learn in diverse ways; the key is the way in which they are prepared and taught. With practice the sight reading of shape notes become easier and the melodious sound is heartwarming.

Naomi Griffin Samuel is a native of South Carolina, and a member of Temple Zion

Baptist Church since early childhood.  She remembers sitting on the wooden pews at her church and listening; hearing the jubilee choirs melodiously serenade the Congregation with rhythmically and encouraging words; words that could sustain until they met again.  When Naomi became an older adult, she became serious about her music and the direction that she wanted for herself.  She joined the Jubilee Choir and set under the instructions of Deacon Odell Bookert, one of the last shaped note choirmasters in Columbia.  Shortly after she began her tutoring with him his failing health and subsequent death hampered her learning.

Naomi now has a responsibility to God and her choir. She accepted the role as leader of her church’s Jubilee choir and was able to imitate what she had learned as to singing but was at a loss for the basics of the shaped notes.

In 2017 Naomi became acquainted with Claudia Williams and immediately she saw an opportunity to improve her Jubilee and note singing skills.  She has accompanied Claudia several times to the Edgefield-McCormick (South Carolina) area to a Springfield Singing Convention, in addition to several shape note workshops conducted by Ms. Williams.

Beyond her responsibilities as choir secretary at her home church and other administrative task, she is president of the City Baptist Jubilee Choir Union which was established in 1922.

Naomi networks with 7 Jubilee choirs from participating churches, she is also one of the leaders of the “City Baptist Jubilee Choir Union Special”.  This is a choir that is populated with 25-30 members from the union churches and nonunion local churches.

Naomi has a passion for Jubilee and Shape Note singing and wants the world to know


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