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Toni Anderson, Music Historian, on
Performing for Henry Ward Beecher

Toni Anderson Henry Ward Beecher agreed to allow them to sing in his church, at the close of one of his regular services. He had the singers stand up and sing. [Pike] describes them as having looked like a motley crew. Some of the singers just had woolen sweaters around their neck to protect their throats. They were poorly clad. They certainly didn’t look fancy. But they stood up to sing in Henry Ward Beecher’s church. After they sang, Beecher came out of his seat, hand in his pocket, pulling out his wallet, saying, "We’re going to take up an offering. We’re going to take a collection." He was so enthusiastic, he promised a concert for them that week. And his enthusiasm quickly spread to his audience members. The press picked this up as well. While they called the singers Beecher’s minstrels, which was a derogatory way of describing them, nonetheless it advertised them. And people turned out to see who this group was.

Why was it so important to get Beecher’s endorsement? Who was this guy?

Anderson : Henry Ward Beecher was the leading evangelical of the time. He had been a strong advocate of the abolitionist movement, and he was a noted speaker, probably the foremost minister of his day. If Beecher said that the singers, the Jubilee Singers were good, then they were good. If Beecher said that the Jubilee Singers were worth endorsing, then they were worth endorsing. So his enthusiasm about this group convinced the AMA to take a second look, and helped break down that fear that had gripped them and that hesitancy about the legitimacy of the singers. So once Beecher endorsed the group, and the newspapers and the press reported this, everything changed.

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