Culture and Tradition: The Fisk Jubilee Singers

Jubilee Singers

One of the most important contributions of Historically Black Colleges and Universities was its ability to create and foster culture and traditions within the black community.  In fact it can be argued to a certain degree that identity and cultural norms within the black community derived largely from black colleges and universities.  From fraternities, sororities and step-shows, to marching bands with soul, HBCUs have been centers for the development of black culture and traditions.

One of the earliest demonstrations of cultures on these campuses can be seen through the choirs, quartets and beautiful Negro Spirituals sang at the turn of the twentieth century.  The embodiment of the creation of culture is evident through the Fisk Jubilee singers.  Fisk University was founded in 1866 in Nashville, TN.  When the school encountered financial difficulty, students at the institution took the liberty of creating an accapella ensemble.  By 1871, nine Fisk students under the direction of George L. White, began a nationwide tour, first in Cincinnati Ohio,  then Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, D. C.

In order to make a lasting impression, the new ensemble needed a meanfingul name.  In honor of “Jubilee” the freeing of former slaves, the ensemble unanimously decided to take on the name “The Jubilee Singers.”  By 1909, the group had successfully introduced over 40 “Negro Spirituals” to the public.  Below are a few sample of those songs. Enjoy!

A recent article written for NPR by Jeff Bossert sheds more light into the legacy created by the Fisk Jubilee Singers:

http://www.npr.org/2011/02/26/134028602/at-fisk-university-a-tradition-of-spirituals

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