MIAMI – Coral Reef High School Choral will join Fisk Jubilee Singers to perform classic Negro spirituals. From Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., the group and the high schools will perform on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m.
In the chaotic decade following the Civil War, a group of young ex-slaves in Nashville set out on a mission to save its financially troubled school by giving concerts. Traveling first through cities of the North, then on to venues across Europe, the Fisk Jubilee Singers introduced audiences to the power of spirituals, religious anthems of slavery. Driven to physical collapse and even death, the singers proved more successful, and more inspirational than anyone could have imagined. Today, performing nationally at venues like the Apollo Theater, this a cappella group stands on the shoulders of the original Jubilee Singers, continuing their legacy of performing Negro spirituals.
Dr. Paul Kwami, musical director for the Jubilee Singers, will hold workshops with students from Avocado Elementary in Homestead as well as with students at Coral Reef High School.
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. 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 11 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 Victorian Gothic building houses a floor-to-ceiling portrait of the original Jubilee Singers, commissioned by Queen Victoria during the 1873 tour as a gift from England to Fisk.
The ensemble continues to travel around the world, singing the Negro spiritual and representing Fisk University. The two-time Grammy Nominated Fisk Jubilee Singers® have won a Dove Award and have been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame as well as the Music City Walk of Fame. By a special invitation from the United States Department of State, the Fisk Jubilee Singers traveled to Ghana for the first time in 2007, where they performed to
celebrate the 50th Independence anniversary of Ghanaians. This journey was historic and became known as “A Sacred Journey.” One of the venues where the performances took place was on the grounds of Elmina Castle.
In 2008, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were awarded the 2008 National Medal of Arts by former President George W. Bush at the White House. Other awards of the ensemble include the Governor’s Award, the Recording Academy Honors and the Heritage Award of the Nashville Music Awards.
Tickets are $20-$37.50. A limited number of $10 youth tickets are available for ages 12 and under. To purchase tickets visit www.smdcac.org or call the Box Office at 786-573-5300. The Center is located at 10950 SW 211 St., Cutler Bay. A limited number of $5 tickets are also available to students ages 13-22 through CultureShockMiami.com
PHOTO COURTESY OF businessclarksville
TELLING HISTORY: Fisk Jubilee Singers portray original members in retelling their life stories.