As the old stories go, it’s the railroad that made Benson what it is today, but others claim it’s the stubborn mule that helped keep everyone fed and the soiled turned.
There is no doubt the railroad and mule are at the heart of the small Johnston County town, but its spirit is in gospel and one of the state’s longest running music celebrations.
The 96th State Annual Singing Convention begins Friday evening with a special “Singspiration” concert from 7 to 10 p. m. Groups set to participate in the concert are Full Reliance, The Hinshaw Trio, Journey’N Faith, Divine Intention, Heaven’s Grace and the Maranotha Singers. -Each group will perform a 30-minute concert Friday evening.
On Saturday, there will be “round robin” singing beginning at 10 a.m. followed by the start of the singing competition at 2 p.m. -In addition, the Inspirations will be featured in a special concert at7 p.m. on Saturday with The Hickory Grove Quartet opening at 6:30 p.m.
According to a group bio, the Inspirations trace their roots back to 1964 when Martin Cook, a chemistry teacher at Swain County High in Bryson City, 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.
“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,” a Benson Sing press release notes. On Sunday morning, more round robin singing will start at 10 a.m. leading into a Sundaymemorial service at 1:30 p.m. then the continuation of the competition at 2 p.m. After the competition, there will be an awards ceremony for the winners of the competition.
As a Sunday bonus, Full Reliance will be in concert at Benson Baptist Church during the 11 a.m.worship service. According to event organizers, everyone is welcome to attend the event at the church located at 200 W. Church St.
All sessions are free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to bring a lawn chair. Registration for the competition should be completed by 1 p.m. Saturday or Sunday there is no entry fee to compete.
For more information, call (919) 894-4389 or email info@gospelsingingconvention. org. The convention’s website is www.gospelsingingconvention. org, also find the event on Facebook at “State Annual Singing Convention- Benson Sing.”
The Sing’s Barnyard Beginnings
In the early 1920s, a small group of music lovers gathered in a Benson tobacco warehouse to begin a tradition. Family quartets, booming church voices and those compelled to belt out a tune took to a makeshift stage.
Little did they know, 96 years later, Benson’s annual State Singing Convention would remain — spiking the town’s population every year in late June and becoming a destination for gospel music fans across North Carolina and the nation.
The event returns this weekend, however, the location has long since moved from its tobacco barn origins to the stage in Benson’s Singing Grove, along Main Street, on Friday, Saturday andSunday.
According to the convention’s official history, the Sing began in 1921, as the brainchild of Simon P. Honeycutt. The first sing was held along Market Street, but was moved to the Singing Grove a year later when the warehouse burned down.
It’s been a tradition ever since. Colorful flyers and newspaper ads pop up in the weeks approaching the event. Large red letters stating “GOSPEL SING” announce the time of year when Benson is filled with song.
Amazingly, the State Singing Convention has pushed on through hard times, without a single interruption. The event is quickly approaching its 100th year of music.
Convention President Danny “Mack” Holland told The Daily Record on the Sing’s 90th anniversary in 2010 that the longevity of the event was a miracle within itself.
“Ninety years without a break, through wars, conflict, Depression, it’s unheard of. We’ve had good organizers who passed it on through the generations and we’ve got lots of dedicated fans. We’ve just always been blessed.
“And we’ll be back next year,” added Mr. Holland.
Event organizers encourage attendees to help kick off the 96th State Annual Singing Convention with Friday night’s special “Singspiration” concert beginning at 7 p.m. — leading into Saturday and Sunday’s full schedule of competition and “round robin” singing.