W.F. Sessoms had a dream to keep Southern Gospel music alive, and even on his death bed, the Sampson County native asked for an annual tradition to continue for many years to come.
In 1915, Sessoms had an idea to start a county-wide sing, inviting several choirs to come out to the Baptist church in Clinton. The next year, the Methodist church opened their doors for the sing, and by the third year, the sing could no longer be accommodated at any of the local churches, and moved to the Sampson County Courthouse.
“Fleet Sessoms started this sing because he loved Gospel music,” Deborah Owen, sing committee member, said.
Now in its 100th year, the annual Sampson County Gospel Sing will be held Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Clinton Family Worship Center and feature multiple groups from Sampson and surrounding counties. Admission is free.
Doors for the event open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30 p.m. with the Viewmasters Quartet. Other performances are Rapture Road Quartet at 6 p.m., Cross Anchored Quartet at 6:30 p.m., the Marksmen Quartet at 7 p.m., the New Bethel Quartet at 7:30 p.m., TDC Trio at 8 p.m., His Voice at 8:30 p.m. and prayer and closing at 9 p.m.
For the first 35 years of the sing, it was known as the Sampson County Courthouse Sing. During that time, the event was held at the courthouse every year except 1940, when there were renovations taking place, so the sing was moved to the community building.
According to Owen, the sing has been held every year for the last 102 years, with the exception of two years during the war. Throughout the years, the location of the sing has been changed to continue accommodating the larger crowds.
“My husband and I have been involved in the sing for many years,” Owen attested. “Before we became board members, we sang in the annual sings, and my husband continues to sing with the Viewmasters.”
From 1960 until 1968, the sing was known as the Fleet Sessoms Sing and continued being held at the courthouse. In 1968, the sing was moved to the Roseboro-Salemburg gym, and back to the courthouse in 1969.
According to Owen, the 53rd sing was held at Clinton High School, but later moved because of the lack of air conditioning. The sing found a new home at the North Carolina Justice Academy campus, outdoors, before being relocated again.
“The sing was very successful with outdoor singing and large crowds attending,” Owen said. “However, due to hot weather and severe thunderstorms that seemed to occur each year, the sing was later moved to the auditorium on the campus, where it remained until 2002.”
Wanting to return the sing to its hometown, the Clinton-Sampson Agri-Civic Center became the new home, allowing for large crowds, a cooler environment and a kitchen to offer light food and refreshments. In 2002, the event also changed from a two-day event to one and is moved from April to the fourth Saturday in September each year.
“Our goal has been to share the gospel with everyone through Southern Gospel music,” Owen said. “We pray that this sing will continue to be a blessing to everyone, for many years to come.”
Members of the sing committee are Peyton Lee, president; Millard Owen III, vice president; Deborah Owen, secretary/treasurer; Roger Wells, chaplain; and board members Wilma Jean Wise, Rufus Herring, Robin Owen, Darrell Smith, Gary Warrick, Earl Naylor, Steve Bass, Roland Royal Jr. and Marshall Ezzell.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.