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Horace Clarence Boyer, Musicologist, on
The Jubilee Singers

Horace Clarence Boyer When the Jubilee Singers begin to go on the road, what do they represent as a group?

Boyer : We talk about the Fisk Jubilee Singers and we’re indebted to the Jubilee Singers for two main reasons. Number one is for taking the Negro spiritual on the road, number one. And number two, I think perhaps we owe this to George L. White, who was the treasurer and music teacher there, for him seeing that there was something beautiful, something valuable, and something cultural in this music that he heard the students singing out on the yards in the afternoon.

Now, I want to tell you that there was a tradition at Fisk in the 1870’s that you came to school but you also had a job after dinner, where you had to work. After all, they were sort of self-sustaining. And when that job was over, then you could go out on the lawn and you could visit with each other before you went in and you did your homework or did your preparation for school. And George White and some of the other professors noticed that little groups would get together and sing. And they were not singing the songs that they knew. They were singing Negro spirituals. And that’s kind of interesting because all of these people hadn’t been slaves. Some had been slaves. But they knew these songs from home. They knew these songs from mama. They knew these songs from church. And they would sing them. Fisk was having great financial difficulty. And they said, "You know, I bet if people heard this music, they would like it, and give us some money to keep the school open." October 6, 1871, these nine young men and women leave Fisk to go out and sing, to sing this song. And of course, they don’t really start out singing the Negro spiritual as much as they sing what would be considered light classics and folksongs of the day, and Ella Sheppard would play some pieces to make up a nice little evening. Eventually, of course, they come to this music. And when they sing the spirituals, of course, they bring something special to that music.

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