The Macon County Arts Council is sponsoring a concert by the Fisk Jubilee Singers on Saturday, Feb. 25.
The concert, which is free to the public, will be at 7 p.m. at the Macon County Junior High School, 1003 Hwy 52 Bypass E., in Lafayette. The concert was originally scheduled to be at Macon County High School, but had to be changed due to a conflict of events.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers are vocal artists and students at Fisk University in Nashville, who sing and travel worldwide.
The original Jubilee Singers introduced ‘slave songs’ to the world in 1871 and were instrumental in preserving this unique American musical tradition known today as Negro spirituals.
They broke racial barriers in the US and abroad in the late 19th century and entertained Kings and Queens in Europe. At the same time, they raised money in support of their beloved school.
In 1999, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were featured in Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory, a PBS award-winning television documentary series, produced by WGBH/Boston.
In July 2007, the Fisk Jubilee Singers went on a sacred journey to Ghana at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy. It was a history making event, as the ensemble traveled to Ghana for the first time and joined in the celebration of the nation’s Golden Jubilee, the 50th independence anniversary.
In 2008, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were selected as a recipient of the 2008 National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artists and patrons of the arts. The award was presented by President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush during a ceremony at the White House.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers continue the tradition of singing the Negro spiritual around the world. This allows the ensemble to share this rich culture globally while preserving this unique music.
Fisk University opened in Nashville in 1866 as the first American university to offer a liberal arts education to “young men and women irrespective of color.” Five years later the school was in dire financial straits.
George L. White, Fisk treasurer and music professor then, created a nine-member choral ensemble of students and took it on tour to earn money for the University. The group left campus on October 6, 1871. Jubilee Day is celebrated annually on October 6 to commemorate this historic day.
The first concerts were in small towns. Surprise, curiosity and some hostility were the early audience response to these young black singers who did not perform in the traditional “minstrel fashion.”
One early concert in Cincinnati brought in $50, which was promptly donated to victims of the notorious 1871 fire in Chicago. When they reached Columbus, the next city on tour, the students were physically and emotionally drained. Mr. White, in a gesture of hope and encouragement named them “The Jubilee Singers,” a Biblical reference to the year of Jubilee in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 25.
Continued perseverance and beautiful voices began to change attitudes among the predominantly white audiences. Eventually skepticism was replaced by standing ovations and critical praise in reviews. Gradually they earned enough money to cover expenses and send back to Fisk.
In 1872 they sang at the World Peace Festival in Boston and at the end of the year President Ulysses S. Grant invited them to perform at the White House.
In 1873 the group grew to eleven members and toured Europe for the first time. Funds raised that year were used to construct the school’s first permanent building, Jubilee Hall. Today Jubilee Hall, designated a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of Interior in 1975, is one of the oldest structures on campus. The beautiful Victorian Gothic building houses a floor-to-ceiling portrait of the original Jubilee Singers, commissioned by Queen Victoria in during the 1873 tour as a gift from England to Fisk.