Nashville’s Fisk Jubilee Singers 150th Anniversary

On 6th October, the city of Nashville’s Fisk Jubilee Singers will celebrate their 150th anniversary following their history-making Grammy award win earlier this year.  As the UK marks Black History Month in October and following the opening of the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) in Nashville earlier this year – the first of its kind in the U.S. – Nashville is shining a light on the cultural importance and influence that the singing group’s performances of spiritual songs born of the African American experience had on the city’s musical legacy. 

We, therefore, wondered if Keep the Faith would be interested in interviewing the group’s Musical Director, Dr. Paul Kwami on the singers’ history, legacy, and hopes for the future, or covering the news? Please see further background below on this pioneering group and their journey.

About Nashville’s Grammy-award winning Fisk Jubilee Singers at 150 years 

Originally known as the ‘Fisk Free Colored School’, Fisk University was established in 1865 to offer educational opportunities to freed slaves. The first students ranged in age from seven to seventy but shared common experiences of slavery and poverty — and an extraordinary thirst for learning. In 1871 an ensemble of students formed a capella choral group and later embarked on a world tour to raise funds for their university, today the troupe is credited with saving Fisk University from financial ruin because of the profits made while touring. This included a visit to London to perform for Queen Victoria who received the singers in her court in 1873 and – as legend has it – commented that they ‘must come from the Music City, and so the city of Nashville’s nickname as ‘Music City’ was born.

The earliest known recording of the Fisk Jubilee Singers performing dates back to 1909 and is available here: 

Swing Low Sweet Chariot – Fisk Jubilee Singers (1909)

At this year’s Grammy Awards, the Fisk Jubilee Singers made history taking home the award for “Best Roots Gospel Album”. The triumph of their album, entitled “Celebrating Fisk.”, made them the only college group in the U.S. to have ever won this prestigious award. The album was recorded at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, an iconic Music City venue that itself celebrates its 130th anniversary in 2022 and where the Fisk Jubilee Singers first performed in 1896. 

To celebrate this milestone, the singers will be giving an exclusive anniversary performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on 11 November. For more information on the Fisk Jubilee Singers click here.

Written By: Susie Hollier

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