As a part of our year long initiative to celebrate and learn about the art form and liturgical use of the negro spiritual, we will share links to articles and videos of interest:
The Fisk Jubilee Singers
One of the reasons the choral tradition of the spiritual exists today is because the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville’s historically black Fisk University formed in 1871 to share the oral tradition created by enslaved Africans. This was not an easy sell, as many of the singers did not want to be reminded of the music connected to the painful time of their youth, but the new Fisk University was struggling financially after the civil war and the white abolitionist university President knew audiences would be moved by the spirituals. Choir members relented and found it to be true– they moved many to donate, battled great racism during their travels, but also gained a tremendous number of fans and strengthened the financial standing of the University and the group.
“Audiences were spellbound. ‘All of a sudden, there was no talking,’ the musicologist Horace Boyer noted of a performance in 1871, the year the ensemble was formed. ‘They said you could hear the soft weeping.'”
“And the beauty of the “slave songs” themselves made it clear to everyone who heard them that Black Americans had developed their own emotionally rich and creatively diverse culture, despite the unthinkable deprivation, brutality and trauma of slavery.”
Learn more about the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the above article and by watching this one hour PBS special, created in 2021 to honor the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Fisk Jubilee Singers: