The Fisk Jubilee Singers
This article published in The Sydney Morning Herald on the 25 September 1886 has not appeared fully transcribed online before.
Parts of the text may be offensive to non historians today. I have transcribed this article as it was written in 1886.
This article contains data which should be added to other history collected by the Fisk University.
The history of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, their work and its results, as told by Mr. J. B. T. Marsh, in a volume recently published, rivals in interest the most absorbing romance, with this notable difference, that the reader lays down the book not with the sense of gratified amusement, but with a feeling of deep sympathy, amazement, and admiration at the wonderful results, and the magic power of song.
The original band was a company of emancipated slaves, who, in 1871, set out with a determination to raise by their singing 20,000 dollars for the school of which they were students. To persons in Sydney with the fine Public schools, in which the children receive cheap education, the state of the slaves in America before emancipation is almost incomprehensible They were by law debarred from acquiring any book-learning. With greediness, and under immense privations and difficulties, men, women, and children laboured to acquire elementary knowledge, and the severest punishment in those early days, following the triumph of the Northern States, was to be suspended from school privileges. From the small start made by the American Missionary Association 17 academics and normal schools, with seven chartered institutions for collegiate and theological education, have been established. So interesting is the account of the educational work, the establishment of the Fisk University for freed people, and the progress of the institution in the 20 years it has now been established, that readers will, it is believed, be glad to know that a condensed history will be on sale during the stay of the Jubilee Singers here. There is a touching significance in the fact that at Nashville, in the former slave-pen of the city, a pile of rusty handcuffs and fetters came into possession of the school authorities, and were sold as old iron, the money being spent in Testaments and spelling books. The first teacher of the Jubilee singers was Mr. White, a native of Cadig, New York, who had a marvellous aptitude for picking out and training the best voices in vocal music. After a few months training, the Fisk choir became so successful, and their efforts in local concerts were so well appreciated, though many a scornful phrase was hurled at "the niggers," that Mr. White followed the active biddings of his earnest heart and started from Nashville with a company of 13 to provide a fund for maintaining the schools.
During their first year, indignities and insults were frequent; at some hotels they were refused admission because of their colour ; at others they were compelled to take their meals in secret ; their first concerts barely paid expenses, and many a time they had to sing with the fear that their lodging and travelling money would not be paid from the proceeds of their work.
The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher on their arrival at New York took up their cause, and thenceforth their cares were lightened.
Their first successful trip was through Connecticut ; in seven days their gross receipts exceeded 3900 dollars. In Newark one hotelkeeper, at whose house rooms had been engaged in advance, turned them literally out of their beds when he discovered that they were negroes and not niggers[sic]. This indignity bore good fruit. The City Council, to mark their sense of the wrong, passed an ordinance opening to the coloured people all the privileges of the Public schools.
Washington, Boston, many points in Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and places in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont were visited.
In Boston a thousand dollar organ was presented to them for the University ; books for their library and many valuable presents were made. Their first season of three months cleared 20,000 dollars.
A second campaign began with another cruel insult, which again was turned to the advantage of the Jubilees. At Princeton a church had been tendered for their concert; the coloured people who had bought reserved-seat tickets were compelled to occupy an out-of-the-way corner. Such an indignity, offered in the House of God, provoked a hot rebuke from their manager, who was stoutly hissed for his speech. The second campaign also produced 2000 dollars profit.
The third campaign was a visit to England. Lord Shaftesbury was their friend, and the invitations to the first concert were sent in his name, The success of their singing was complete, and the singers had the best fortune throughout their trip. The Queen, the Duke and Duchoss of Argyle, Dean Stanley, Mr. Samuel Gurney, the Rev. Newman Hall, Mr. George Macdonald, and Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, at whose house they sang to the Prince of Wales, the Grand Czareons, and many royal and noblo personages attended their concerts. Mr. Spurgeon, too, helped them much, and was himself most deeply impressed with their music. From London they went to Scotland, singing in connection with Messrs. Moody and Sankey in the North of England, and, besides large audiences, at many places they received valuable gifts. Mr. John Crossley, after hearing them at Halifax, promised
a supply of carpets, and many gave £10 to furnish a room in the Jubilee Hall. Four concerts in Manchester produced £1200. Their journey to Britain resulted in £10.000 being raised for Jubilee Hall and many gifts of apparatus, books, and money for special purposes.
In May, 1875, a second English campaign was planned. The Jubilee Hall was too small, and the Livingstone Missionary Hall was deemed necessary. The singers determined to reise beyond their ordinury earnings-which wore needed for existing demands of the school — the sum of £10,000 for its erection, in their first year more than a third of the sum was raised, exclusive of the usual concert work.
Through the influence of Mr. G. P. Ittman, of Rotterdam, who heard the Jubilee Singers in London, a trip to the Continent was planned; and the grand cathedrals of the Netherlands were thronged to hear the plaintive melodies sung by those who had been slaves in America; 10,000 dollars profit from that trip. In October, 1877, they pushed on to Germany and had a warm welcome. In Berlin the Crown Prince and Princess invited them to the new palace, where their singing excited the liveliest admiration.
The company has necessarily gone through several changes; but it is asserted that the standard of the singers, who will shortly commence a season here, is quite equal to the original company. The songs are of the simplest charactor. The great charm seems to lie in the varying forms of interpretation, and the changing moods, the perfect intonation, and the light and shade with which they invest their singing. In a preface to the music, the unique origin, and some of the characteristics are pointed out. Though they are in reality the simple ecstatic utterances of un- tutored minds stirred into fervour by the meeting in church or camp, there are none of the crudities which shook the musician. The rhythm is always good, though at times complicated and often distinctly original. Three part measure, or triple time is rarely found; more than half the melodies follow the national Scottish music, in the fact that in the scale the fourth and seventh tones are omitted ; and as many maintain the Greek to have been written in a similar scale, the thoughtful student may well ask if this is not perhaps the easiest musical alphabet. Tho Jubilee Singers have secured the Y. M. C. A. hall, and will commence a season in Sydney on Monday, 4th October.
The Sydney Morning Herald
(NSW : 1842 - 1954)
Dated Saturday 25 September 1886
Ogiginal Document Tagged
The Fisk Jubilee Singers
7 November 2012
State library of Victoria
Note: The Fisk Jubilee Singers found appreciative audiences in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia throughout 1886 and 1887.j