Reference Entry

Fisk Jubilee Singers

Lisa Clayton Robinson

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Fisk Jubilee Singers

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The Fisk Jubilee Singers were founded in 1867 by George L. White, the treasurer and vocal-music teacher at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Fisk had been established two years earlier to educate newly freed black slaves. Few students could afford Fisk's tuition, so the school needed other sources of revenue. White came up with the idea of a performing choir as a way to raise money.The Fisk Jubilee Singers brought African American spirituals and work songs to a wide audience in North America and Europe. The Everett CollectionAfter several successful local appearances, the reputation of the eleven-member choir began to spread. In 1871 the Jubilee Singers embarked on a tour of the Northeast, performing mainly in churches before all-white audiences. Their repertoire included anthems, popular ballads, and operatic excerpts, but their most popular pieces proved to be African American spirituals and work songs. Many people in their audiences were hearing these songs for the first time. Highlights of the tour included a performance before 40,000 people at the World's Peace Jubilee in Boston in 1872 and a concert for President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington, D.C. That first tour was a big hit and spurred widespread interest in plantation hymns and other Southern black music. The Jubilee Singers eventually took their show to several European countries, including a performance for Queen Victoria in England.With the money the singers raised, Fisk University was able to buy a forty-acre site for its campus and complete construction in 1875 of its first permanent building, which was called Jubilee Hall. Other black schools, such as Hampton Institute, Tuskegee Institute, and Howard University, soon followed with traveling choirs of their own. To many of the newly freed African American slaves, the spirituals and work songs represented an unwelcome reminder of slavery, and they were eager to discard them. But thanks to the work of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other groups like them, these songs did not die and are now celebrated as the first indigenous African American music.See also Slavery in the United States.

Reference Entry.  386 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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