Posts Tagged ‘Fisk Jubilee Singers’

In Nashville, after Reconstruction, Spirituals were becoming popularized by a group of Fisk University students called the Fisk Jubillee Singers.  George White (who was white) was their choral director and took them on their first tour in Oct. 1871 singing formal western choral music.  The program and the school were in trouble.  George White wanted to raise money to help save the school, so he took the singers north on tour.  However, no one wanted to see a group of singers singing Western Choral Music, and they raised no money.

On breaks the singers would sing songs that they learned from their parents.  These were songs that were sung in slave quarters, etc.  In late 1871 at a conference while they were waiting backstage, White told them to start singing the Spiritual “Steal Away” which was a slave song used to gather slaves together out of the fields.  Upon hearing this music coming from backstage, the meeting at the conference stopped to listen to the singers.  The singers, after the wonderful response they got, toured all through the US singing the Spirituals rather than formal choral music.  They made money and were able to save the school.

By the end of 1872 President Ulysses S Grant invited them to perform at the White House.  The Fisk Jubillee singers sang “Spirituals” which were new then, and were a mix of European church music and African song styles.

The Spirituals that they sang were very structured & sounded like European classical choral music, but with rhythm.  The technique and instrumentation were performed in major, minor, and slight variant mixtures of scales. The accompaniment, when used, would use I, IV, V, chord structure to give more foundation to the already structured singing. This is very much like the chord patterns of twelve and eight bar blues.

This was the first widespread popularity of American Roots Music.

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