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Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry$
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Sandra Jean Graham

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041631

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041631.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use.date: 26 September 2021

The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University

The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University

Chapter:
(p.17) Chapter 2 The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University
Source:
Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry
Author(s):

Sandra Jean Graham

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5622/illinois/9780252041631.003.0002

This chapter recounts the history of the founding of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1866 by the American Missionary Association and a trio of its agents: Erastus Milo (E. M.) Cravath, Edward Parmelee Smith, and John Ogden. The school’s educational philosophy emphasized teacher training, theology, training for craft work, and liberal arts. George L. White, hired as treasurer, initiated an informal music program that grew into an avenue for generating profit and promoting Fisk’s educational agenda, thanks to a choir he put together with the assistance of Ella Sheppard, who as music teacher was the first and only black staff member at Fisk from 1870 to 1875. In public, the Fisk choristers sang music from the white popular tradition, known as “people’s song” in the words of composer George Frederick Root. In private they introduced their spirituals to the white teachers, doing so under some duress, as they associated the songs with an enslaved past to be forgotten. Around early 1871 George White began urging the American Missionary Association to let him take his choristers on the road to raise money for the school; the group would be modeled on “singing families” such as the Hutchinson Family Singers. After much debate his plan was approved, and after a few weeks on the road White named his choir the Jubilee Singers. Although initially a dismal failure, the troupe’s rebranding, decision to sing more spirituals and less people’s song, and the patronage of Henry Ward Beecher in Brooklyn led to a reversal of fortune. By early 1872 the Jubilee Singers were on their way to fame and fortune. They presented their concerts as a “service of song,” to remind the public that their singing was not entertainment but rather had a religious and moral mission.

Keywords:   Fisk University founding, Fisk University educational philosophy, Fisk Jubilee Singers, spirituals, people’s song, slave song, George Frederick Root, Lowell Mason, George L. White, E. M. Cravath, John Ogden, Ella Sheppard (early life and work at Fisk), American Missionary Association and Fisk Jubilee Singers, Fisk Jubilee Singers, singing families, Hutchinson Family Singers, John Hutchinson, Abby Hutchinson, naming the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Henry Ward Beecher as patron of Fisk Jubilee Singers, service of song in nineteenth century United States

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