Fisk Jubilee Singers - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Fisk Jubilee Singers

In 1871, hoping to raise funds for Fisk University, school treasurer and music teacher Geoff L. White borrowed money and set out with nine student singers for a tour despite the disapproval of the university.

Withstanding hardships and indignities, this nameless and almost penniless group persevered against all odds to save their school from bankruptcy and closure. The singers ranged in age from 15-25 and all were former slaves or children of slaves.

Financially unsuccessful at first, the group abandoned its classical, popular repertoire for powerful, moving spirituals and slave songs. The group also adopted the name of Jubilee Singers, from the biblical reference to the time of jubilee and the freeing of all slaves.

The group's manager, George White, was without musical training himself, but he was a fine singer, was dedicated to music, and had the added talent of getting the utmost from his gifted singers. Soon the power and eloquence of their music was entrancing and inspiring audiences, which always cheered for encores.

After several tours throughout the United States and Europe, the Jubilee Singers eventually raised $150,000, securing the school's future. The funds purchased Fisk's present campus (old Union Fort Gillem) in North Nashville and built Jubilee Hall, the first permanent building in America for the education of blacks (now designated as a national historic landmark).

Begun as a free school providing primary through college education for newly freed slaves, Fisk was founded in 1866 by the Congregational Church's American Missionary Association, the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission, and former Union Army Gen. Clinton B. Fisk of the Freedmen's Bureau. Its only buildings at first were abandoned Union Army barracks.

Each Oct. 6, Fisk celebrates Jubilee Day, commemorating the original Jubilee Singers, who sang before kings, queens, and heads of state; who captured the hearts of all who heard their music; who introduced to the world the beauty and tradition of the Negro spiritual; and who, with steadfastness and commitment, virtually saved their university.

--Written by Kay Beasley

Information and photo generously provided by The Local Conference On Afro-American Culture At Tennessee State University

Fisk University

Fisk University began as Fisk Free Colored School, one of several schools founded for freedmen during the Union military occupation of Nashville. Fisk was the first historically black college or university to gain accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the first HBCU to be granted a charter for the establishment of a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. More>>

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