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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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Blurring Boundaries between Traditional and Commercial

Blurring Boundaries between Traditional and Commercial

(p.224) Chapter 8 Blurring Boundaries between Traditional and Commercial
Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

Sandra Jean Graham

University of Illinois Press

By the late 1870s the jubilee marketplace was in full swing, and the term jubilee singer had become so diluted as to be essentially meaningless. All manner of jubilee singers represented themselves as tradition bearers, giving rise to frequent skirmishes over legitimacy that were played out in marketing. As traditional spirituals, contrafacta, parodies, answer songs, and parodies of parodies cycled back on each other, the boundaries between them and their performers blurred. Some troupes, like the Wilmington Jubilee Singers, began as concert artists but ended up as minstrel or variety entertainers. Others, like the Nashville Students, successfully incorporated variety entertainment in their programs while maintaining their reputation as concert artists. The career of Sam Lucas demonstrates the nexus between folk and popular song traditions as the boundaries between the altruistic and the purely commercial, between the folk and the popular, and between “high” and “low” began to dissolve.

Keywords:   black composers of popular music 1870s-1880s, traditional vs. commercial spirituals, authenticity in performance of spirituals, Fisk Jubilee Singers, Wilmington Jubilee Singers, Ida and Charles Washington (black performers), Sheppard’s Jubilee Singers, jubilee troupes as minstrel/variety performers, Haverly’s Colored Minstrels, Sam Lucas (songwriting; jubilee troupes), “Children I’m Gwine to Shine”, Hyers sisters, Little Corinne (entertainer), “Talk About Your Moses” (Lucas), “Every Day’ll Be Sunday” (Lucas), (Wilson and Thearle’s) Original Nashville Students, Jacob J. Sawyer, Southern Jubilee Singers, Canadian Jubilee Singers, Standard Quartette, James Putnam, James Grace (minstrel performer)

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