The Jubilee Singers: A Historical Look At The Black Choir That Broke Barriers

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Whoever said music is food for the soul was not lying. Since the dawn of time, music has always been used to convey messages of hope, healing, happiness and sorrow. For us, it was also a survival method used to tell stories, give directions, and send secret messages. Most of all, he brought people together and still does. Choirs, especially.

Around this time of the year in 1866, John Ogden, Erastus Milo Cravath, and the Reverend Edward P. Smith opened the doors of Fisk School, which would later become Fisk University in Nashville. It was the first American university to offer liberal arts education to “young men and women regardless of color,” and when the school ran into financial trouble in 1871, its treasurer and music teacher George L. White brought in nine students to create a choir that would tour and earn money for college. Thus, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were born and named after the year of Jubilee in the Bible book of Leviticus 25. They were known to sing “slave songs” which later became known as spirituals. African-Americans. And they became the first choir to internationalize in US history.

Naturally, the choir encountered hatred in a black and white America, but “persistence continues and beautiful voices have begun to change the attitudes of the predominantly white audience. Eventually the skepticism was

replaced by standing ovations and critical praise in reviews, ”according to Steven Lewis, Ph.D., curator at the National Museum of African-American Music in Nashville, explains that the Jubilee Singers have attracted a large following because they adopted a European style that they merged with Afro-spirituals. Americans.

In 1873, the Fisk Jubilee Singers raised enough money to go to the named Jubilee Hall building – the school’s first permanent structure – which became a National Historic Landmark just over 100 years later in 1975. Jubilee Hall is one of the oldest structures on campus and features a floor-to-ceiling portrait of the original Jubilee Singers, commissioned by Queen Victoria during their 1873 tour. The group continued and is still thriving today. hui.

In 1872, they sang at the World Peace Festival in Boston and at the White House at the invitation of President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1873, they were on international tours. In 2002, the Library of Congress honored the 1909 Fisk Jubilee Singers’ recording of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” by adding it to the United States National Recording Registry. The choir was even honored with its own entry into the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville.

This year, their Celebrating Fisk! (The 150th Anniversary Album) is nominated for a GRAMMY in the “Best Roots Gospel Album” category. Legend has it that the Fisk Jubilee Singers are the reason Nashville is called “Music

Ville. “Songwriter / producer and producer of Singers ‘150th album, two-time Grammy Award-winning Singers Shannon Sanders said the legacy was attached to the choir because the Queen of England said’ you must be from the city of music “to the group of students after hearing them sing in the 1800s.

Their groundbreaking efforts inspired a ‘jubilee’ style of music that infused spirituals with rhythmic music and other ‘jubilee quartets’ and groups such as the original Nashville students, as well as student choirs in other historically black colleges including Hampton, Tuskegee, Wilberforce, etc.

People like the legendary Thomas Dorsey continued to further popularize black choirs rooted in southern blues in the early 1900s and mid 1900s, groups like the Soul Stirrers and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi helped bring it to life. to evolve with even more extended rhythmic freedom of the jubilee style. Popularization made room for Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walkers, Andrae Crouch, Edwin Hawkins and other singers to pursue professional careers singing for God. And just as the tone of gospel music began to be influenced by traditional music, so did R&B by gospel. From Sam Cooke to Otis Reading and Aretha Franklin to Patti LaBelle, the anointing in their voices was evident. The next wave of change began with the legendary Shirley Caesar, The Clark Sisters, The Winans and many more who transformed gospel music and backing vocals into a contemporary sound that was always a reflection of daring and daring. intrepidity,

the main workers and magnets of God in which the Fisk Jubilee Singers were rooted.

Now we have Kirk Franklin & the Family, Donald Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers, Commissioned, Hezekiah Walker & the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir, Ricky Dillard & New G, and more who paved the way for singers like Mary Mary, James Fortune & FIYA, The Walls Group, Anthony Brown & theraPy group, JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise and too many others to name them.

All that considered, let’s never forget the Black choir that broke barriers and changed the game forever: The Fisk Jubilee Singers.


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