Jubilee Singers [Fisk Jubilee Singers]
- Sandra Jean Graham
[Fisk Jubilee Singers]
Choral group that introduced Negro spirituals in concert. The original troupe of ten students consisted of six women and four men and began touring the northern United States on 6 October 1871 to raise funds for the indigent Fisk University at Nashville, Tennessee, a college for freed slaves established in 1866 by the American Missionary Association. They disbanded in June 1878. The number of singers varied over the years as members left the troupe and new ones joined.
George L. White (1838–95), the school’s white treasurer and music teacher, trained the singers in a repertory of patriotic tunes, hymns, and popular songs of the day, assisted by student Ella Sheppard (1851–1914), who served as soprano and pianist. The singers’ tour initially followed the route of the Underground Railroad in Ohio, with the aim of finding sympathetic audiences. Their early concerts failed to provoke interest until White changed the repertory to spirituals and christened the group (which until then had had no official name) the Jubilee Singers after the Old Testament’s year of jubilee (Leviticus xxv), when slaves were freed. In ...