Over 100-year-old recording of the Fisk Jubilee singers revealed

Posted at 6:16 PM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 12:37:54-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For 150 years, people have enjoyed the sounds of the Fisk Jubilee Singers — and a rare recording has just been revealed.

A newly discovered song performed by what was then the "Jubilee Quartet" is believed to be the oldest recording of the ensemble.

The Fisk Jubilee singers have a history of taking an old sound and making it new. Michael Deurlein discovered this personally.

"Music is a huge part of my life. And I'm trying to raise my kids in a way that they value music, and it is without question a way to bring people together across either very real or perceived barriers that may exist."

Deurlein believes he has inherited the oldest recording of the Fisk Jubilee singers, and he has it in rare form — on a wax cylinder and an old phonograph record player. Out of his entire wax collections there was only one which included a Black artist.

"This is probably the only recording of a Black artist in the entire collection and if you think about it, early 1900s, it’s not that there weren’t Black artists then. There were plenty, and there were a lot of folks writing music. But then, performance-wise, it was always performed by a white artist," said Deurlein.

Deurlein said he thinks the song was recorded in 1912. He shared the sound with four current Fisk Jubilee singers.

Deurlein said the wax cylinders were given to his grandparents from their dear friend, Dona Horde. He said Horde purchased the phonograph in 1919 in Scott County, Virginia.

The Jubilee Singers Musical Director Dr. Paul Kwami shared this moment with his students.

"It was a beautiful experience watching my students listen to this recording," Kwami said. He also said he's now on a mission to find other rare Jubilee recordings.

"I had my students singing and that gave me a lot of joy, and they tried to imitate the songs. You know, I was very happy to hear them sing the songs," said Kwami.

Kwami said he wants Deurlein to return to play the recording for the entire Jubilee ensemble.