Remarks on the Sacred Harp Singing Life of Shelbie Sheppard

(March 3, 1938–November 29, 2013)

Devotion to Jeff

Shelbie’s 57 year marriage to Jeff was a true love story. In fact, it was a Sacred Harp love story since Shelbie met Jeff at a Sacred Harp singing and married him just a few months later. They devoted their entire lives to singing and teaching and supporting Sacred Harp singings. (They sang for the first recordings by the Sacred Harp Publishing Company in the 1960s.) Shelbie absolutely respected Jeff, and Jeff respected Shelbie. They were also partners in business so they spent almost all of their time together over at least the past 35 years … working together, singing together, and enjoying retirement together. It was special that Shelbie was able to return home early from rehab to be with Jeff for his final few days.

A Fine Singer, Leader, and Teacher

Shelbie was an excellent singer, leader, and teacher of Sacred Harp music. Shelbie had high standards, and she insisted that things be done the right way. Because of this and because we all could see the respect she had for Sacred Harp singing and traditions, she earned and received the respect of singers throughout the country.

Shelbie could sing any song in the book and knew all the parts to most songs. But when we remember Shelbie now, we think of what an accomplished leader she was in the square. She knew how to get the best out of a class. When Shelbie led, we watched her closely and responded to what she wanted.

Shelbie was also the best teacher of Sacred Harp leading that I have ever seen. She taught many, many people the little things to do in the square to make them better leaders. People would travel great distances to come to Camp Fasola to learn leading from Shelbie, and she was invited to teach in many states and the United Kingdom. She established a method of teaching leading that later teachers like Judy Caudle, Cassie Allen, and Bridgett Hill Kennedy are continuing.

I’ll expand just a bit on Shelbie’s teaching of leading songs. Leading is particularly difficult to teach because you need to get into a pupil’s individual space just a bit while they are in the square to best help them. Shelbie knew how to do this with care … how to hold a pupil’s arm or to put her foot on theirs … so that the leading pupil could best learn. She would tell her pupils to think about how they look in the square … to dress appropriately for a singing … to always “look your best” … to show respect to the tradition and to the God that we sing for.

A Hard Worker

Shelbie worked tirelessly for Sacred Harp singing as long as she was physically able. Of course, she cooked and provided dinner for many singings. In fact, her purple stuff was legendary, and she even taught classes on “Dinner on the Ground”. But she did much more.

I wonder just how many singers enjoyed her cooking and lodging hospitality in their home over the years? She did this because she enjoyed the company of people and enjoyed doing things for them. Through this love that she showed so many, she and Jeff were most instrumental in opening the existing Southern community of Sacred Harp to new singers from around the country in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

Our community had a big need in 1995 for someone to take over the duties of producing the “Directory and Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings”. Shelbie willingly stepped up and took on this very big job, and published this book for 12 years. Shelbie transformed the Minutes book into a professional, high quality publication in her first year as editor. She worked doggedly for the accuracy of its contents. Shelbie had the insight and was responsible for adding the “Birthdays” section, the “Deaths” section, and the “Historical Memorial Project” to this book. And when the books arrived at her houses on Robert Gene Drive and Ayers Drive in January, she organized crews to help with box packing and distribution of the books to singers as soon as possible.

Not many folks know, but Jeff and Shelbie spent their own money to buy the equipment and supplies needed to produce the Minutes book when Shelbie took on that job. They would not accept reimbursement because Shelbie wanted to accumulate a little rainy day fund for the Minutes in case of hard times.

Shelbie was also the treasurer for the Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association for 10 years and did untold work for Camp Fasola. My favorite story is from the 1st year of Camp. To make the finances work, we purchased two T-shirts for each camper for three days of camp, one blue, one green. The plan was us to collect shirts from the 71 campers on the second day and for Shelbie to wash the 1st day shirts and bring them back for the 3rd day. Now, these were the thick, all cotton shirts; not the lighter quick-dry type. Shelbie stayed up until four o’clock in the morning to wash and dry all those T-shirts. Shelbie and Jeff loved Camp, loved being with the young people and became like grandparents to them, and they made special friendships with the adults as well.

Fun

Shelbie Sheppard loved to have fun and, if you knew her at all, you know she even enjoyed being mischievous. She enjoyed traveling with Jeff and family and friends. She had a great sense of humor, and I’ll never forget her story she would tell on herself of when she fell into their swimming pool at their house in Glencoe. (I can’t do justice to Shelbie’s story, so I won’t try to tell it.) It was winter, and there was a cover on the pool, but somehow Shelbie slipped and fell onto the pool cover. Well it gave way, and she fell partially into the water with her sweatpants and sweatshirt on, but somehow was also able to hold onto the pool cover. She was calling out for help, but no one could hear her. While it actually was a quite dangerous situation, Shelbie turned this into a hilarious story by making fun of herself and concluding with a good ending, of course.

Family Was Very Important to Shelbie

Shelbie loved and adored her great-grandchildren, her grandchildren, her sons-in-law, Rene and Pam, and Jeff. I was always impressed that she knew what was going on in the lives of all her grandchildren and their kids. She also loved and made many of us welcome and part of her extended singing family, and we are the richer for it.

Conclusion

I don’t know of a couple who was more involved with or who did more for Sacred Harp than Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard. In fact, when we singers said one of their names, we almost always said the other as well, didn’t we? Always, Jeff and Shelbie … Jeff and Shelbie …

Thank you, Shelbie, for your life … and for your love for your family and your friends.

You were truly one of a kind, and I’m confident in saying that no one can ever take your place.

We were blessed to be in your company and to learn from you, and we will always remember you.

(Spoken at Shelbie Sheppard’s memorial service on Sunday, December 1, 2013.)

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One Response to Remarks on the Sacred Harp Singing Life of Shelbie Sheppard

  1. Rebecca P. Over says:

    Thank you so much for putting the information about Jeff and Shelbie on this website. Shelbie’s parents Walker and Lessie Cates supported the Mount Zion Memorial Singing in Carroll County, Georgia. Shelbie first appears there in the minutes of the 1955 session (mis-recorded by the secretary as “Shelby Jean Caps”) at which she led 272 and 419.

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