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Fisk Jubilee Singers

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wilco 17 Oct 02 - 11:25 AM
wilco 17 Oct 02 - 11:29 AM
GUEST 17 Oct 02 - 11:52 AM
masato sakurai 17 Oct 02 - 12:19 PM
masato sakurai 17 Oct 02 - 12:26 PM
catspaw49 17 Oct 02 - 12:41 PM
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Subject: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: wilco
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 11:25 AM

I found a great magazine article about the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the July-August 2000 edition of AMERICAN HERITAGE magazine. The subtitle of the article is "How a small group of former slaves taught the world about black music, the promise of emancipation, and the meaning of the (US) civil war. In 1871, Fisk University was a severely underfunded effort of the American Missionairy Association to establish a center of higher education for formely enslaved blacks in Nashville, Tennessee. This was five years after the US civil war, and southern cities were full of emancipated blacks, with no jobs, no education, and no prospects (plus the new jim crow laws). Fisk was started on the grounds of a former Union hospital site. Literacy had been forbidden under slavery, and these folks had literally risked their lifes to learn to read and write, prior and during the civil war (1861-1865). To raise money, they started a singing group. The article tells the story about how the former slaves " demonstrate their ability to absorb the culture of white America, they initially performed .... popular songs, European classics...,
but nothing so touched the northern missionairies as the religious songs that they chanced to overhear. Before they came to be called spirituals or jubilees, these folk hymnns were known as plantation melodies, slave hymnns or sorrow songs." Their chior director was a Union civil war veteran named George leonard White, Fisk's treasurer.
He collected the hymnns from such palces as his assistant's mother, Ella Shephard, like "O freedom. Swing Low Sweet Chariot." A washerwoman's daughter named Jennie Jackson, told him of one she had heard as a slave, "I'll hear the Trumpet Souns." By 1881, he had over a hundred of these songs. In 1871, the school was on the evrge of collapsing, and White took nine of the singers up north to try to raise money. The northeren white audiences wanted the usual minstrel show stuff, very demeaning characterizations of stupid, backward blacks. At firts, they sang the popular stuff, and stayed away from the spirituals. When they finally did a spiritual in Oberlin, Ohio, the group was starving and very dis-enheartened. every cent at Fisk had gone into this northern trip to raise money. When the group did "Steal Away," the audience "was spellbound." Their big break came on December 27th, when they sang in the church of Henry Ward Beecher in Brooklyn, new York. Beecher was the most influential preacher of the time, and his daughter was harriet beecher Stowe, who wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which many attribute the Civil war to. They sang such songs as "Oh, how I Love Juesus," and "Go Down Moses," The article cites some currently available recordings: Rise, Shine,: Fisk Jubilee Singers in Concert, Been in the Strom So Long. And there is a three CD collection Fisk Jubilee Singers: 1909-1911, 1915-1920, 1924-1940.
Two of my gg garndfathers were killed in battle in the Civil War, fighting for the preservation of slavery, as confedrates. It is so hard to understand why they died for such an abyssmal cause.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: wilco
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 11:29 AM

The point that I meant to make was that you can't help to wonder if these songs would have been forgotten, if not for White and the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 11:52 AM

The collection of mostly spiritual songs published in 1867 by Thomas Fenner and William Francis Allen, along with a history of the Hampton Institute is on the internet at (or add#ham171 to go directly to the songs): Cabin and Plantation

Also see, at this site, African-American Spirituals Permathread, 38686: Spirituals for a comprehensive listing of spirituals at this site and articles on collections and history.
Also see Songs of the Jubilee Singers, Thomas Seward, for a collection that has been published several times, with additions, since the 1890s.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: masato sakurai
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 12:19 PM

Previous thread

The American Experience (PBS): The Jubilee Singers [good introduction]

Fisk University -- Jubilee Singers

Today in History: January 9 -- The Fisk School [with links]


The Fisk Jubilee Singers

From the Levy Sheet Music Collection:

Title: Songs of the Jubilee Singers From Fisk University. I'm Going to Sing all the Way.
Composer, Lyricist, Arranger: Transcribed by Miss Ella Shepard.
Publication: Cincinnati: John Church & Co., 66 W. 4th St., 1880.
Form of Composition: strophic with chorus
Instrumentation: piano and voice
First Line: We'll raise the christian banner, The motto's new and old
First Line of Chorus: O, I'm a going to sing, going to sing, going to sing all along the way
Advertisement: ads on back cover for John Church & Co. stock
Plate Number: 3383.3
Subject: Universities & colleges
Subject: Religion
Call No.: Box: 044 Item: 099

Title: Jubilee Anthem for the Dedicatory Services of Jubilee Hall.
Composer, Lyricist, Arranger: Words from Psalm CXXXVII and Psal CXXVI. Music Composed and Arranged By James Merrylees, Glasgow, Scotland.
Publication: New York: Chas. H. Ditson & Co., 1876.
Form of Composition: sectional, with solos and choral selections
Instrumentation: piano and voice
First Line: By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, Yea! we wept
To the Jubillee Singers of Fisk University, Who Went Forth With Weeping, Bearing the precious seed of touching Songs wrung by ages of oppression from the hearts of an Imaginative Race, And Who Now Return With Joy, Bringing their sheaves with them, having realized the magnificent sum of Eighteen Thousand Pounds Sterlings, For the Erection of Buildings adapted to the Educational wants of their People, This Anthem, Written by request of their Conductor, George L. White, Esq., Treasurer of Fisk University, is Dedicated, As an expression of that loving sympathy which seeks not only to weep with them that weep, but to rejoice with them that do rejoice, By The Composer. Engraver, Lithographer, Artist: unattributed lithograph of Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. "Built by the Singing of the Jubilee Singers-Ex Slaves, Students of the University."
Subject: University & colleges--exteriors
Subject: Commemorations
Subject: Religion
Subject: Biblical references
Call No.: Box: 044 Item: 080

From Songs of the Jubilee Singers (Cincinnati: John Church & Co., 1880, 1881) [at American Memory, Library of Congress]:

Oh rise and shine!

The gospel train

Reign, Massa Jesus, reign

My Lord's writing all the time

I'm going to sing all the way

What kind of shoes you going to wear?

The gospel train

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: masato sakurai
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 12:26 PM

The link again:

Today in History: January 9 -- The Fisk School

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: catspaw49
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 12:41 PM

Wilco, you may not be familiar with this part of the story, but the infamous 60's song by Bobbi Gentry, "Ode to Billie Joe," can also be linked to the Jubilee Singers.

The story of Billie Joe is based in truth but stylized to some degree. It is an old story, dating back to the the late 40's when the only daughter of John Hatch, a Mississippi Klansman of some note, was in love with the first black attorney in the state. Jubilee Simmons was the grandson of slaves and his parents had named him Jubilee because they had both been members of the famous Fisk Jubilee Singers, where they had actually first met and fallen in love. He had gone to law school at the University of Chicago and returned to his family's home state of Mississippi, taking up residence in Carroll county in 1948.

Klansman John Hatch's daughter was known to be a bit wild and young Kelli had already incurred her father's wrath on numerous occasions. Kelli was living with two other 22 year old women in the small town of Campton, Mississippi when she met and began dating Simmons. Her father learned of it a few weeks later and came into town drunk with some Klan buddies to hunt down and kill Simmons. Simmons law offices were across from the county courthouse and through an open window he could hear the drunken invectives hurled his way from across the square. He slipped out a back door and went to Kelli's house to take her away and save them both from the murderous rancor of her father and his equally violent "brethren."

Not finding Jubilee in his office the Klansmen split up to search for him and John Hatch went to his daughter's, presumably to beat her or possibly (and probably) worse. He arrived before the pair had left and headed in the back porch door adjoining the kitchen. Seeing him coming, Simmons grabbed a kitchen knife and jumped atop the counter and then onto the top of the refrigerator that stood by the door. As John Hatch passed, he didn't notice Simmons who then jumped him safely from behind and in the ensuing struggle, Hatch was stabbed with the knife. The lovers bagged his body and threw it off the bridge on their way out of town. They were on their way to Chicago when they were arrested in Clarksville, Tennessee and returned for trial in Mississippi. Jubilee represented both and thanks to the testimony of one of the roommates and Mrs. Hatch, the wife of the deceased and Kelli's mother, who had suffered abuse for years at the hands of her husband, both were acquitted and moved to Chicago where he established a moderately successful practice on the south side.

The original song told the story as it was, but owing to legal considerations, the Gentry version was done instead. The original was titled, "The Day that Jubilee the Barrister Jumped Off of Kelli Hatch's Fridge."

Sorry..............Told it 6 times before but I figure I can still hook someone.......


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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: masato sakurai
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 12:49 PM


(1) Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America by Andrew Ward

(2) Chariot in the Sky: A Story of the Jubilee Singers by ARNA BONTEMPS

(3) A Band of Angels : A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers
by Deborah Hopkinson [picture book]

(4) J.B.I. Marsh, The Story of the Jubilee Singers; With Their Songs (Hodder and Stoughton, 1875, 1877; AMS Press, 1971 [rpt. of the 1880 Houghton, Osgood and Co. edition]) [out of print]

I haven't seen (2) & (3), which I am ordering now.


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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: wilco
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 01:08 PM

I'm going to locate and review the original song book, and see how many of those songs I still sing today. I remember that the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack had only two songs that aren't fairly common around here. For years, I had heard these Fisk Jubilee Songs done by bluegrass groups, brother groups (Stanley and Louvin Brothers), and some Old Time Bands. I can't wait to hear how they did "Steal Away.' This is sung in many churches here today.
As Usual, Thanks Masato and catspaw!!!!! You are both great resources!!

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 01:24 PM

Add- At American Memory: I Am the Door. Fisk Jubilee Singers.
(Do not confuse with song of same title by G. F. R., 1884)

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 02:33 PM

Odd, "Steal Away" hasn't made it to the African American Spirituals Permathread. Three versions may be found in thread 24379: Steal Away
The Fisk version hasn't been added to this thread yet.

The One in the DT lacks two of the four verses used by Fisk Jubilee Singers and other groups.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: wysiwyg
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 03:45 PM

I wrote a long post and it got lost in a Mudcat hiccup. In short, the permathread is a work in progress, in need of volunteers. A good way to help keep it current is to use it as a base for new threads-- see if an existing thread will suit what will be posted. (There is one that is all links, for instance,) Another good way to help is to list the things you find around here or elsewhere, in the permathread, complete with URL and, if it's a thread, the song title and thread title.

It will always be a work in progress, and its progress will always depend on volunteers willing to do searches and to help keep it growing. When I get a chance-- I'm not online as much now that my health is improving-- I'll catch up all of the above in all the places it could go, to make it easier for the next person to find. It's now one of several threads on my Trace list waiting for me (or someone else) to do the work.


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Subject: Fisk Online Concert Link & Track List - Spirituals
From: wysiwyg
Date: 28 Jan 04 - 11:25 AM

See and hear today's generation of the Fisk Jubilee Singers online at the Kennedy Center's Millenium Stage website HERE.

This is a good opportunity to catch how the tunes might go, but as it is a choral performance, many of the words are unclear and text sources will be better for getting a lyric. Determining "the" melody will be difficult from this concert alone. Since it is the nature of the genre that tune and lyric are so fluid, one can easily fashion one's own version, however! :~)

The songs are announced/introduced in groups, with choral arrangers and featured singers credited. Times below are approximate. Due to sound problems, the concert does not start immediately.

01:20 Introduction (about the Fisk Jubilee Singers)
2:00 Introduction of first group of songs
02:40 Rock in Jerusalem
05:00 Lord I'm Out Here On Your Word (if I die on the battlefield)
09:10 There Is a Balm in Gilead

13:35 Introduction of second group of songs
14:10 Poor Man Lazarus
16:05 Nobody Knows the Trouble I See
19:15 Run, Mourner, Run

21:18 Introduction of third group of songs
21:40 Soon I Will Be Done
24:40 I'm Gonna Sing Till the Spirit Moves (in my heart)
27:10 Were You There? (when they crucified my Lord)

30:25 Introduction of fourth group of songs
31:10 Wade in the Water
35:00 Gonna Journey Away (some mornin') (to God)
37:38 Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord (o the king cried)

39:50 Introduction of fifth group of songs
40:24 Down by the Riverside
42:35 I Been in the Storm (so long, give me a little time to pray)
45:22 He's Got the Whole World (in His hand)

49:07 Introduction of sixth group of songs and additional credits
51:23 Ride On Jesus (ride on King Jesus) (I want to go to heaven in the morning)
53:48 I Got a Home In-a That Rock

Rats! No encore!

I hear the "truest" aspects of their performance in the soloists. I love them, and I am grateful that they preserved so many songs. But I also am sad that in order to promote the songs to the public (white $$), they had to start or participate in the process of sanitizing, choral arranging, and operatic singing of the whole genre.


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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: wysiwyg
Date: 17 Apr 05 - 06:01 PM



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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 26 Feb 11 - 12:23 PM

At Fisk University, A Tradition Of Spirituals

[photos and links to audio of "There Is A Balm In Gilead" (1909) and "There Is A Light Shining On Me" (1915) available at the above link, as well as link to full interview audio.]

by Jeff Bossert
National Public Radio
26 Feb. 2011, Weekend Edition Saturday

For nearly 150 years, a largely black private university in Nashville has prided itself on its liberal arts studies and its music. Vocal ensembles at Fisk University have been there about as long as the campus itself. But the songs performed there today could have sounded very different if it hadn't been for the efforts of one of the school's first music directors.

A new collection from Archeophone Records, an Illinois label that revives old recordings, not only preserves that effort but also reopens the debate on whether so-called Negro spirituals are simply cruel reminders of slavery. The collection is titled There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916.

Between 1909 and 1916, the Fisk Jubilee Quartet recorded more than 40 songs. John Work II was a scholar, musician and anthropologist who collected these songs from the days of slavery, had them published and recorded many of them with the quartet.

The Switch

When Work came to Fisk University in 1891, the institution had already used music as a way to save the school from insolvency. The first Fisk Jubilee Singers toured the world, performing for Queen Victoria, among others. And what they were performing was just as significant: They switched from operatic arias to religious songs like "There Is a Balm in Gilead." But by the time Work came to Fisk, the choir had disbanded and was all but forgotten, in part because of those very songs.

"Because of their very sacred nature, they had been an essential part of the insular slave worship," author Doug Seroff says. "Further, white minstrel performers had seized on their spiritual songs and subjected them to parody and ridicule — ridiculing the slave's religion as well as the songs."

Seroff has traced the earliest history of black vocal harmonies and written the liner notes for the new collection. He says there was a reluctance to perform spirituals following emancipation because they were seen as a degrading reminder of slave life. Freed men were anxious to put this era behind them, he says, and saw a college education as a way to achieve that. But Seroff says Work saw things differently.

"For John Work, the spirituals preserved the religious faith and wisdom of his forebears," Seroff says. "And he took great pride in the racial heritage of sacred folk music, especially the fact that the songs in his mind contained no trace of hatred or revenge against the slave masters and oppressors."

Messengers Of Black Music

John Work II was the son of a slave. He eventually convinced the university to let the singers go back out on tour.

Reduced from a chorus to a men's quartet for financial reasons, they made their first recordings in 1909 for the Victor label. The Fisk Jubilee Quartet became messengers for black music, says Tim Brooks, author of the book Lost Sounds, a history of the earliest African-American recordings.

"They only toured in the North, of course, and usually to a kind of upper-educated group, and churches, and things like that," Brooks says. "They didn't play vaudeville or broad-based entertainment. So when those records came out from Victor — the big record company in 1910 — they spread across the country. People everywhere, including people who would never allow a black person in their front parlor, bought those records."

Some blacks felt the Fisk Jubilee Singers were pandering to white audiences. But Brooks says there were fans, including Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak, who believed black Americans should look to their own roots and traditions for music, and then build on them.

"Another very prominent school of thought was that, 'No, they should show that they can do everything that the white man can do, and do it as well, or do it even better,' " Brooks says. "That is, follow the European tradition, go into great art, and show how well they could do it. Roland Hayes himself pursued that very strictly."

Hayes was the most prominent singer to come out of the Fisk Jubilee Quartet. He went on to become a lyric tenor. Translating the power of his voice and the rest of the quartet recordings for modern ears turned out to be a challenge for Richard Martin, co-owner of Archeophone Records. He says the shellac discs and wax cylinders compiled for this CD set were released years before standard playback speeds existed. And, with only a cappella voices to guide him, Martin sought some advice.

"The recommended speeds as they applied made this material sound like it was funeral music," Martin says. "By consulting with an expert and testing out some theories and comparing it to what we knew about what the group was supposed to sound like, we were able to make the changes to the pitching that made it much more vibrant, much more jubilant, and it just clicked."

In Work's Footsteps

Surprisingly, John Work II's contributions to African-American music on the Fisk campus were largely overshadowed by those of his son. John Work III spent more than 40 years at Fisk, not only as a student and teacher but also as leader of the Jubilee Singers. He ultimately became the first African-American chairman of the school's music department. Today, Anthony Williams is an associate professor of music at Fisk. He wrote his dissertation on John Work III, whom he knew as a child.

"The research his son did was more extensive; therefore, he probably overshadowed his father in that regard," Williams says. "But I believe without his father's work, I'm not sure where his son would have been in terms of his work and research."

John Work II left the Fisk campus under a cloud. It's unclear whether he was dismissed or quit because the university remained uncomfortable with the kind of music he championed.

~ Becky in Tucson

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 26 Feb 11 - 12:30 PM

"There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916" at Archeophone Records

Lovely Sounds of Sorrow
Listening to the Fisk Jubilee Quartet a century later

December 24, 2010
The Wall Street Journal

Century-old records are the closest thing we have to a time machine. To listen to the voice of Theodore Roosevelt or the piano playing of Claude Debussy is to feel the years falling away like autumn leaves from a maple tree. Rarely, though, have I been so engrossed by an album remastered from antique 78s as I was by "There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916," an anthology released by Archeophone Records. This two-CD set, which also includes a profusely illustrated 100-page booklet, contains 43 of the first recordings of black spirituals. It is the most important historical reissue of 2010—and one that tells a story about turn-of-the-century black culture that may make some listeners squirm with retrospective discomfort.

Nashville's Fisk University, which opened its doors in 1866, is one of America's oldest historically black colleges. It is also known to scholars of American music as the home of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an ensemble founded in 1871 that introduced concertgoers around the world to such deathless songs of sorrow and hope as "There Is a Balm in Gilead" and "Roll Jordan Roll," in the process raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the inadequately funded school. The original Fisk Jubilee Singers disbanded before the invention of the phonograph, but in 1899 John Work II, a teacher at Fisk, reorganized the group, and a male quartet drawn from the chorus started making recordings for Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1909.

No matter how much you think you know about spirituals, I think you'll be surprised to hear these performances, because few of them sound anything like what you're likely to be expecting. Their musical tone is formal, sometimes even a bit staid, as if you were hearing four gentlemen in high-button shoes warbling close-harmony hymns in the parlor. Not always—the quartet tosses off the syncopations in the up-tempo tunes with a light, dancing touch—but it's downright startling to hear them sing "CHAH-ree-AHT" in the very first recording of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." No less surprising is that they recorded "Old Black Joe," one of Stephen Foster's nostalgic plantation songs, at their third session.

The only performance on "There Breathes a Hope" that hints at the existence of a very different kind of black music is the 1911 recording of "Po' Mo'ner Got a Home at Last." In place of smooth four-part harmony, we hear heavy, rough-edged unison singing with a keening falsetto countermelody on top. It's a radical departure from the group's usual style—and one that would not soon be repeated.

How to explain the near-Victorian tone of these recordings? The answer, of course, is that the members of the quartet were university men, aspiring members of the middle class who believed as devoutly in the tenets of the genteel tradition as their white counterparts. Indeed, the mere fact that they were singing spirituals (instead of, say, part-songs by Brahms) was enough to make some of their fellow students look askance at them. In 1909 spirituals were still widely viewed in the black community—and in Fisk's own all-classical music department—as quaint relics of the bad old days of slavery. Small wonder, then, that the Fisk Jubilee Quartet's singing is polished and dignified in a way that now seems as "wrong" to us as the bluesy heterophony of "Po' Mo'ner Got a Home at Last" must have sounded to more than a few of the middle-class blacks who purchased a copy of Victor 16843.

Does that make these records "inauthentic"? Far from it. "There Breathes a Hope" also includes a 1983 interview with Jerome I. Wright, one of the last surviving members of the Jubilee Quartet, who explained that the group "interpreted [spirituals] as the slaves did….Of course, these other [later] groups—with no reflection on their efforts—they would mix up a little jazz with it…we were closer to slavery and we got a deeper, an in-depth feeling of that music."

All of which is just another way of saying that black culture in turn-of-the-century America was vastly more complex than it looks from a distance, and that the middle-class black musical styles of the period were as "authentic" in their own way as the dance-based working-class music that today's listeners treasure. No matter what style you favor, though, I guarantee that you'll be moved to the marrow of your bones by the precise, tautly controlled intensity with which Prof. Work and his group sing "Steal Away to Jesus." As any true music lover can tell you, there's more than one kind of soul.

—Mr. Teachout, the Journal's drama critic, writes "Sightings" every other Friday. He is the author of "Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong." Write to him at

~ Becky in Tucson

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 26 Feb 11 - 12:32 PM

Samples of all the tracks for "There Breathes a Hope", as well as more notes are available at the link I posted above.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: Crowhugger
Date: 26 Feb 11 - 01:23 PM

Thanks for your links Becky. As an a cappella and barbershop singer it's a joy to hear this history.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: GUEST,E Hereford
Date: 24 Jun 11 - 12:23 AM

I have one of first recordings of the Quartet before they was the singers and i am trying to find it a new home. 615 578 6898

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: wysiwyg
Date: 24 Jun 11 - 10:44 AM



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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: GUEST,Louise Bylove
Date: 25 Jul 11 - 10:43 AM

Does anyone know which songs are included in Songs of the Jubilee Singers by Thomas Seward?

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 25 Jul 11 - 06:41 PM

from the MARK TWAIN Project;style=letter

To Theodore F. Seward
8 March 1875 • Hartford, Conn.
(Boston Evening Journal, 13 Mar 75, UCCL 01205)
Click to add citation to My Citations.

[Farmington Avenue, Hartford],
March 8, 1875.

[Thos. F. Seward, Esq.]
Dear Sir—

I am expecting to hear the Jubilee Singers to-night, for the fifth time (the reason it is not the fiftieth is because I have not had fifty opportunities),1 [&] I wish to ask a favor of them. I remember an afternoon in London, when their "John Brown's Body" took a decorous, aristocratic English audience by surprise & threw them into a volcanic eruption of applause before they knew what they were about. I never saw anything finer than their enthusiasm. Now, John Brown is not in this evening's programme; cannot it be added? It would set me down in London again for a minute or two, & at the same time save me the tedious sea voyage & the expense.2 I was glad of the triumph the Jubilee Singers achieved in England, for their music so well deserved such a result.3 Their success in this country is pretty well attested by the fact that there are already companies of imitators trying to ride into public favor by endeavoring to convey the impression that they are the original Jubilee Singers.4

Very truly,

[Samuel L. Clemens].
(Mark Twain.)

1 The Jubilee Singers, a group of African-American students from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, were known for their moving renditions of slave songs and spirituals. Theodore (not Thomas) F. Seward (1835–1902) was the group's current musical director, engaged to assist their regular conductor—George L. White, who was in poor health—on their second European tour, scheduled to begin in May. Previously Seward had studied music in Boston, then worked as an organist, music teacher, and editor of the Musical Pioneer and the Musical Gazette. About 1869 he had become interested in African-American music and in 1871 was engaged to transcribe and edit the first collection of the songs of the Jubilee Singers, published in 1872 (Seward). By March 1873, when Clemens wrote an enthusiastic endorsement for the singers' first European tour, he had already heard them sing at least once, and probably twice. While in London that summer he heard them twice more. The present concert in Hartford was their first in that city since their return from England (L5, 315–16, 414 n. 2; Marsh, 78–79; "Amusements," Hartford Courant, 8 Mar 75, 3).

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2 "John Brown's Body" memorialized the famous abolitionist who wished to invade the South and liberate the slaves, but was hanged as a traitor after leading an 1859 attack on the United States armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). The original tune was a folk song, its words evidently composed by Union soldiers during the first year of the Civil War. (Julia Ward Howe adopted the tune for the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," published in the Atlantic Monthly for February 1862 [9:145].) In 1873 the song had awakened "special enthusiasm" in English audiences: at a performance hosted by Prime Minister William Gladstone and his wife for the royal family, Mrs. Gladstone requested an encore "as a special favor to the Grand Duchess Czarevna, whose imperial father-in-law had emancipated the serfs in Russia" (Marsh, 52). Below are the lyrics, as sung by the Jubilee Singers. The first lines of verses one, three, and four (and the chorus) are repeated twice before the second line is sung; the chorus is sung after every verse except the third.

John Brown's body lies a mould'ring in the grave,

But his soul's marching on.

Glory, glory Hallelujah,

His soul's marching on.

He captured Harper's Ferry

with his nineteen men so true,

And he frightened old Virginia till she

trembled through and through.

They hung him for a traitor,

themselves the traitor crew,

But his soul's marching on.

John Brown died that the slave might be free,

But his soul's marching on.

Now has come the glorious jubilee,

When all mankind are free.

(Marsh, 223–24; Marius, xix–xx.) Clemens had probably read the Jubilee Singers' intended program printed in the Hartford Courant on 6 March. On the morning after the concert the Courant noted:

There was standing room only for late comers at the Opera House last evening on the occasion of the reappearance of the Fisk Jubilee singers, and the audience was as enthusiastic as it was numerous. Applause was profuse and encores frequent. In response to one recall the troupe sang "John Brown's Body" with great spirit and effect. Previous to its rendering, the director read a letter from a well known citizen of Hartford, describing the enthusiasm with which the piece was received in London and requesting that it should be added to the programme. The troupe has improved considerably since its last appearance, and its rendering of the slave songs is now as effective as could be well imagined. These excellent singers will always be welcome in Hartford. ("The Jubilee Singers," 6 Mar 75, 9 Mar 75, 2)

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3 During their first tour the Jubilee Singers raised nearly ten thousand pounds for their university. The second tour was not as remunerative, primarily because of economic "hard times" (L5, 316 n. 1; Marsh, 86–99).

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4 Frederick J. Loudin, a soloist who had recently joined the group (Marsh, 114), had told an audience at Waterbury, Connecticut, about its financial struggles and the competition it faced:
Mr. F. A. Loudin, whose splendid bass voice had given him a special claim upon us, made a neat little speech toward the close of the concert which, if it could be heard beforehand in your churches, would carry the day in favor of the "Jubilees," in the face of the crowd of catch-penny performances now seeking the eye and the ear of the public, and in spite of the hard times which he spoke of. ("The Jubilee Singers To-Night," Hartford Courant, 8 Mar 75, 2)

(Clemens gave Loudin an autograph: "Very Truly Yr friend | Samℓ. L. Clemens | Mark Twain | Hartford Mch 1875" [ORaHi].) Clemens's "companies of imitators" doubtless included a group that had appeared in Hartford on 18 January 1875, advertising itself as the "Famous Original Jubilee Singers! From Jackson University, Tennessee—(12 persons former slaves, male and female)." The Courant declared the singers "by no means equal to the original jubilee singers from Fisk university, upon whose reputation they seem to be traveling. . . . their concert certainly showed they were not endowed with equal musical gifts, nor have they apparently enjoyed equal opportunities for training" (Hartford Courant: "Amusements," 18 Jan 75, 1; "The Jubilee Singers," 19 Jan 75, 2). Still another group of "jubilee singers," from the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, in Hampton, Virginia, had performed regularly since 1873, and appeared in New York City on 3 and 8 March (Odell, 9:340, 353, 364, 495, 506, 639). Clemens's enthusiasm for the Fisk Jubilee Singers did not diminish. In 1897 he described one of their performances in Lucerne, Switzerland:

Then rose and swelled out . . . one of those rich chords the secret of whose make only the Jubilees possess, and a spell fell upon that house. It was fine to see the faces light up with the pleased wonder and surprise of it. . . . Arduous and painstaking cultivation has not diminished or artificialized their music, but on the contrary—to my surprise—has mightily reinforced its eloquence and beauty. Away back in the beginning—to my mind—their music made all other vocal music cheap; and that early notion is emphasized now. It is utterly beautiful, to me; and it moves me infinitely more than any other music can. (22 Aug 97 to Twichell, MTL, 2:645–46)

Description of Texts and Provenance

"Mark Twain and the Jubilee Singers," Boston Evening Journal, 13 Mar 75, 4. Copy-text is a microfilm edition of the newspaper in the Library of Congress (
). The original letter may have been written on monogram letterhead.
Previous publication: L6, 406–8; Martin, 2–3.

Emendations and textual notes:

Farmington Avenue, Hartford • Farmington Avenue, Hartford

Thos. F. Seward, Esq. • Thos. F. Seward, Esq.

& • and [here and hereafter]

Samuel L. Clemens • SAMUEL L. CLEMENS

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: wysiwyg
Date: 25 Jul 11 - 10:25 PM


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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
Date: 26 Jul 11 - 01:28 AM

I grew up listing to Fisk recordings on LP and as a youth I was singing some of their arrangements with the Chicago Children's Choir. This choir is still thriving today. It was started by the Rev. Christopher Moore as a way to bring black and white kids (all kids from all backgrounds really) together with the goal of musical excellence. This was a time of crisis in the civil rights movement with urban riots in Chicago and all over the US. The gospel and spiritual music we made was not watered down and though we sang with Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and performed all kinds of material from classical to folk, the black religious music we did always brought the house down and the black kids in the choir knew how to make it real. We all felt that that we were singing for our lives.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 28 Jul 11 - 02:00 PM

Hello GUEST,Louise Bylove,
I have a barely legible scan of the contents of the 1920
"The Songs of the Jubilee Singers" [Kent: W J Gibbs, 1920] provided by a bookseller who is currently offering a copy.
PM me your e-mail address if you want me to forward it.

There are a number of other publications, 1872, 1873, 1975, 1977, 1884, and 1920. Some of these are available online at Internet Archive

Here is a catalog entry for an 1872 publication listing the songs:
Jubilee songs : as sung by the Jubilee Singers, of Fisk University (Nashville, Tenn.) / under the auspices of the American Missionary Association.
Imprint New York (425 Broome St.) : Biglow & Main, 1872.
Contents Nobody knows the trouble I see, Lord! -- Swing low, sweet chariot -- Room enough -- O redeemed -- Roll, Jordan, roll -- Turn back Pharaoh's army -- Rise, mourners -- From every graveyard -- Children, we all shall be free -- I'm a rolling -- I'll hear the trumpet sound -- Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel -- I've just come from the fountain -- Children, you'll be called on -- Give me Jesus -- Gwine to ride up in the chariot -- We'll die in the field -- Go down, Moses -- The rocks and the mountains -- Been a listening -- Keep me from sinking down ; I'm a trav'ling to the grave / [Robbins Battell] -- Many thousand gone -- Steal away.

What is your interest?
Best wishes, Thomas.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 28 Jul 11 - 02:44 PM

Original publications of Marsh, c. 1880, The Story of the Jubiee Singers; with Their Songs has circa 135 spirituals.
The Seward volume (republished by Gibbs, the English keeper of an evangelical camp) has about the same listing.

I think an index was posted in Mudcat, but see the major thread linked at top of this thread.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: GUEST,rose samy
Date: 10 Sep 13 - 09:01 PM

who are the 11 singers of the jubilee singers in 1873

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Sep 13 - 01:24 PM

See Wikipedia, "Fisk Jubilee Singers."
Names of members of original groups. 1871-1874 (Tours 1-3) are given.

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Subject: RE: Fisk Jubilee Singers
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 05 Jul 24 - 07:21 AM

Jubilee! - 2024
BBC radio - Drama on 3

As the dust settles on the American Civil War, a group of young black university students begin an extraordinary journey.

Made In Manchester's 90-minute BBC Radio 3 Drama, Jubilee! tells the story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choir peopled entirely from once enslaved young men and women and founded to raise money for their beleaguered university. These young musicians would go on to captivate America and Europe, perform before presidents and royalty and become international celebrities. Uniquely, the choir introduced Spirituals to the world – secret songs once sung on blood-soaked plantations across the South – songs that began the march to freedom.

Written by award-winning writers Garth Bardsley and Ray Shell, and starring major talent including Samuel West, Sophia Nomvete and Simon Callow, Jubilee! is directed by multi-award winning director Andy Jordan and recounts a remarkable, life-affirming story of hope - revealing once again the rich diversity of the African diaspora. In a contemporary world in which the immigrant is vilified and the poor subjugated, Jubilee! celebrates the bravery, talents, resilience and integrity of a group of people who originated from the cruellest of backgrounds.

By Garth Bardsley and Ray Shell

Ella Sheppard: Sophia Nomvete
George White: Samuel West
Professor Adam Spence: Kerry Shale
Henry Ward Beecher: Simon Callow
Benjamin Holmes: Tayla Kovacevic-Ebong
Laura White: Fiona Christie
Isaac Dickerson: Iman Marson,
Maggie Porter: Alana M Robinson
Lord Shaftesbury: Richard Clifford
Miss Wells: Lorelei King
Jennie Jackson: Gabrielle Friedman
The Duchess of Argyll: Catie Flye,
Minnie Tate: Lola May
Male Guest and the Railroad Superintendent: Garth Bardsley
Simon Sheppard: Ray Shell
Other roles were played by members of the company.

The London Voices singers were:
Rachel Oyawale, Angela Caesar, Layla Ley, and Christina Gill.
Melanie Marshall, John Gyeantey, Ken Burton, and
Themba Mvula.
Choral Director: Ben Parry
Original music: Sarah Llewellyn
Guitar: James Fox
Dialogue Editing:Andrew Taylor.
directed by Andy Jordan.
The Producer was Kurt Brookes.
Executive Producer, Ashley Byrne.
Jubilee! is a Made in Manchester Production for BBC Radio 3.

btw 2010 BBC Saturday Drama The Jubilee Singers by Adrian Mitchell
mudcat thread

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