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The American Experience
Andrew Ward

Jubilee Songs

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Combining the heritage of African culture and the experiences encountered while in bondage, early African American music would become a unifying and driving force among America's slaves. Spirituals, as many of these songs came to be called, expressed faith in God, helped make work more bearable, and also revealed plans to revolt. The songs' lyrics offer a glimpse of the true horror slaves endured as well as a hope and faith that one day they would be free. The voice for generations of African Americans, these songs laid the groundwork for the development of other forms of music in America.

The Fisk University Jubilee Singers was the first group to publicly perform the songs of slaves and they shared them with the world. When the Fisk Jubilee Singers first performed in the late 1800s, they sang ballads and patriotic anthems; it was their director, George White, who suggested that they sing the songs of their ancestors. The group was hesitant at first to expose this sacred music but agreed to add a few spirituals to their program. The music was well-received, often moving audiences to tears. With their performances, the Jubilee Singers were able to keep alive these songs of the past and reveal the emotions and strong faith of the African American slave.

picture of jubilee singersThe following songs were recorded for use in the film "Jubilee Singers." "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "Steal Away" are part of the Jubilee Singers traditional repertoire and are performed here by the current Fisk group. Sam McClain, a former sharecropper who has been a deacon of Green Grove Primitive Baptist in Nolensville, Tennessee, for 55 years sings "If I Have My Ticket, Can I Ride," "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray," and "Help Me."


Jubilee Songs

    Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray performed by Sam McClain
    •   Lyrics
    •   Audio (RealAudio)

    Steal Away performed by current Jubilee Singers
    •   Lyrics
    •   Audio (RealAudio)

    Swing Low, Sweet Chariot performed by current Jubilee Singers
    •   Lyrics
    •   Audio (RealAudio)
    •   Video (QuickTime)

    If I Have My Ticket, Can I Ride performed by Sam McClain
    •   Lyrics
    •   Audio (RealAudio)

    Help Me performed by Sam McClain
    •   Lyrics
    •   Audio (RealAudio)
    •   Video (QuickTime)

Go to real.com to download the free RealPlayer.



Fisk University has recently issued "Rise, Shine! Fisk Jubilee Singers Live in Concert." The cassette and CD features members of the same 1998-199 ensemble who appear in the WGBH documentary, performing 17 of the spirituals that the Jubilees introduced to the world, including "Steal Away," "Ain't Got Time to Die," "Ev'ry Time I Get the Spirit," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "This Little Light of Mine." Copies may be ordered from the Fisk Alumni Office at 800-443-2586.

Jubilee Songs | Andrew Ward

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