Since 1889, the Morning Star United Methodist Church southeast of Canton has hosted a gathering known as Old Folks Day. Thanks largely to the encouragement of North Carolina Folk Heritage Award recipient Quay Smathers, Old Folks Day became a favorite gathering of shape-note singers. Smathers, who is now deceased, had learned shape-note singing as a small child from family and community members in Haywood County, and from traveling singing masters who would visit churches for several days at a time, instructing the congregations in the singing of shaped notes.
The shape-note system, which was popular in congregations throughout the South in the nineteenth century—and to a declining, though still significant, degree in the twentieth century—was devised to simplify the learning of written music. The Old Folks Day singers sing from The Carolina Book, a revised version of the 1866 Christian Harmony, written by upcountry South Carolinian William Walker. Members of the Smathers family are still active participants in the Old Folks Day singings.
Visitors are welcome to attend—and take part in—the singing. The event begins with a potluck dinner on the grounds, after which the church bell rings, signaling to those gathered that it is time for the singing to begin.
Singers gather at Morning Star United Methodist Church, on Dutch Grove Road near Canton, every second Sunday in September. It is typically a half-day event. Visitors are welcome, and those who wish to join in the potluck are asked to bring a dish to contribute.