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Fisk Univ. Jubilee Singers
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Fisk University Jubilee Singers

The Fisk University Jubilee Singers were formed at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee in the late 1800’s. The University was established 1866, just months after the end of the Civil War. Originally known as the Fisk Free Colored School, the institution was sponsored by the American Missionary Association and offered basic education to former slaves. 

On September 20, 1866, four black men and five black women, all former slaves, joined forces to form the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The group included some of Fisk University’s best singers. It toured the nation to raise money to sustain the university. These young singers used the last of the school’s treasury and often traveled the route of the Underground Railroad. Although the singers were wearing rags on their backs, the crowds they performed before were welcoming. Unfortunately, the singers initially did not bring in enough money to even cover their own expenses. Still, they kept on traveling and eventually their hard work paid off. They even traveled to Europe to perform. The Fisk Jubilee Singers faced discrimination, but they saved Fisk University and introduced the world to black folk music, the music of slaves, and spirituals. Their music celebrated life, survival, and victory. Some of their favorite hymns were Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Down by the Riverside; and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. 

The history of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers is worth reviewing. This group challenged the nation’s perceptions and treatment of Black people and preserved despite many hardships. They built a foundation to combat the indifference that Black Americans faced at this time by promoting the acceptance of Black music and Black people. Many Black Americans don’t know a lot about African slaves, their own ancestors. The Fisk Jubilee Singers sang slave music and gospel hymns, the songs that slaves sang to get them through lives of oppression. The music of the Fisk University Jubilee singers encompasses you; you feel their song and their spirituality, which is all the slaves had to make it through. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers still perform and were the focus of an episode of PBS’s American Experience entitled “Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory.”


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