Fisk Jubilee Singers

views updated

Fisk Jubilee Singers

The Fisk Jubilee Singers, a student choral group of former slaves at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, was organized in 1867 by George L. White, Fisk's treasurer and vocal-music teacher. After several local appearances, the eleven-member group of men and women traveled north to raise money for the financially beleaguered young school. Barely meeting expenses and suffering prejudice and discrimination, the Singers worked their way through the Congregational and Presbyterian churches of Ohio. They began to achieve success with their appearance on November 15, 1871, at Oberlin College at a meeting of the National Council of Congregational Churches, constituents of the American Missionary Association, which had founded Fisk.

The Jubilee Singers' repertory of anthems, operatic excerpts, popular ballads, and temperance songs impressed their audiences, in part with the realization that African Americans could sing European music. The singers received their greatest popular response, however, when they sang spirituals, and it can be said that they introduced a white audience to black music. They made plantation hymns popular and even caused them to be written down and preserved. Endorsed by Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn's Church of the Pilgrims, the singers began winning praise and raising money in Connecticut and Massachusetts, especially with an audience of forty thousand at the World's Peace Jubilee in Boston in 1872. In Washington, D.C., a later Fisk Jubilee Singers group sang for President Ulysses S. Grant.

During a tour of the British Isles, the group sang for Queen Victoria and with the Moody and Sankey evangelistic campaign. They were popular with Quakers and other former abolitionists, as well as with both the aristocracy (Prime Minister William Gladstone invited them to lunch) and common people (they sang for an audience of six thousand in Charles Spurgeon's London tabernacle). Imitations of this group were legion. In 1875 Fisk graduated its first collegiate class and completed construction of Jubilee Hall, its first permanent building, paid for by the Jubilee Singers' tours. The Jubilee Singers continue to exist today at Fisk University.

See also Fisk University


Marsh, J. B. T. The Story of the Jubilee Singers with Their Songs. Boston: Houghton, Osgood, 1881.

doris evans mcginty (1996)