Friday, 12 October 2012

Prof Kitzel's Time Machine Profile; Fisk Jubilee Singers


The Fisk University Jubilee Singers were the first commercially and critically successful black vocal group, they were the first group to tour both the USA and Europe, they were also the first black vocal group to successfully record, setting the foundations for all later Gospel groups as well as those in turn influenced by gospel, ie. Jazz, Blues, R+B, Doo-Wop, Soul, & Rock n' Roll. ..

~The beginnings ~ ..

Fisk University was an all black Liberal Arts School in Nashville Tennessee in 1866 to educate newly freed slaves, founded by the American Missionary Association, a white northern abolitionist group. The school attracted 900 students in it's first year but had trouble raising funds so that by 1870 school treasurer (who also acted as choir master) George L. White hit upon a plan to raise money by sending the school's respected choir on a concert tour to raise funds. At first following the trail of the old underground railway to the north and performing to mainly white audiences the group were a sensation to whites who had never seen a non-minstrel black singing group. ..


~ The Fisk University Jubilee Singers ~ ..

Billing the group as the Jubilee Singers to emphasize their dignified & religious nature, the group consisted of a male and female quartet with a female pianist. Their music consisted of traditional hymns performed in respectable European style, but also influenced by the more emotional style of the black churches and the work songs of the slaves giving them a power and depth no white group could match. They wore typically somber black suits and gowns of the Victorian era and sang impassively with out speaking to the audience, leaving White to introduce the songs. In 1872 they performed for President U.S. Grant, Vice-President Colfax and members of the congress as well as getting rave reviews in New York City before going to London where they performed for the Queen and Prime Minister Gladstone and royal guests from all over Europe, this tour was so successful that they stayed in Europe until 1874 when they finally returned home minus baritone Issac Dickerson who remained in Britain. Upon returning home singers Minnie Tate and Benjamin Holmes retired due to health issues and exhaustion as did musical director George White. In 1875 a renewed lineup toured Europe, doing especially well in Germany, Holland & Switzerland. In spite of their success the A.M.A facing financial hard times and govt. cuts, declined to fund the group anymore and they returned home (minus three members who stayed in Europe) and disbanded in 1878. Later a reorganized group would tour across the USA, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand & Canada in the 1880's. The great success of the Fisk singers inspired the black schools like the Tuskegee Institute to follow suit. ..


~ The Fisk Jubilee Quartet ~ ..

By the 1890's the Europeanised style of the 1870's had been replaced by a newer quartet style which was less formal as well as being easier for the new recording industry to reproduce, accordingly the Fisk singers were reduced to a quartet which became one of the first to record starting in 1909 for Victor Records. These records were highly successful , continuing to sell well into the early 1920's when they were finally superseded by more rural groups like the Norfolk and Golden Gate Jubilee Quartets and even more down home preachers like Rev. J.M Gates. A later member of the quartet Roland Hayes would go on to a successful solo opera career and would become the first black singer to independently produce his own records. Versions of the quartet would continue to perform into the 1950's (including on the Grand Ole Opry) albeit to a largely older middle class and white audience. A yet again revived group continues to perform today. Fisk University is still in operation in Nashville.


The Fisk University Jubilee Singers ~ Thomas Rutling, Issac Dickerson, Benjamin Holmes, Fredrick Loudin, Minnie Tate, Ella Sheppard, w/George L. White as musical director.
The Fisk Jubilee Quartet ~ John W.Work, N.W.Ryder, J.A.Myers, Alfred King and later John Work, Roland Hayes, Leon P.O'Hara, Charles Wesley


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