February 12, 2014

Black History Month: Fisk Jubilee Singers from Tennessee

Black History Month: Fisk Jubilee Singers
Prints & Photographs Department, MSRC
I've talked about the Canadian Jubilee Singers and now I want to talk about the original Fisk Jubilee Singers from Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee. The Fisk Jubilee Singers' first tour was in small towns across America from October 1871 to March 1872. By 1873 the group consisted of eleven black singers and they were soon headed for Europe.
Black History Month: Fisk Jubilee Singers from Tennessee
Image courtesy of J.D. Thomas of Accessible Archives
Image courtesy of J.D. Thomas of Accessible Archives
The website for the current Fisk Jubilee Singers says that "The original Jubilee Singers introduced ‘slave songs’ to the world in 1871 and were instrumental in preserving this unique American musical tradition known today as Negro spirituals."

Prejudice existed and the Batavia published a small note about the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the early 1880s: 


We can also witness the discrimination and difficulties faced by the singers in their travels:

Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
Date: March 2, 1882
Title: Certain hotels in Washington, D.C., refused last week to ac
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Certain hotels in Washington, D.C., refused last week to accommodate the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Some no doubt, truthfully basing their refusal on lack of room, and others squarely on the ground of color. It should not be understood, however, that the best hotels in Washington refuse to accommodate people on account of their color. It is not a fact, and such an impression would do harm. &#150 Indianapolis Leader . 

Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
Date: January 6, 1881
Title: ----- JUBILEE SINGERS' CIVIL RIGHTS CASE. -----
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

----- JUBILEE SINGERS' CIVIL RIGHTS CASE. -----
MR. EDITOR.- As is perhaps wellknown to most of your readers, the national conference of colored man, held in the city of Nashville, Tenn., May 6th, 1879, resolved to prosecute the conductor of one of the Tennessee railways, for roughly seizing by the arm one of the lady members of the Jubilee Singers, and thrusting her from the platform of the ladies' coach to the smoking car. For the conducting of the case, the conference appointed a prosecuting committee consisting of J.H. Burrus, Rev. G.H. Shaffer, and W.H. Yardly, Esq., the first two of Nashville, and the last of Knoxville, Tenn. 

Even Canada was not immune to showing discrimination


Collection: African American Newspapers 
Publication: THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
Date: November 10, 1881
Title: REFERRING TO THE recent insult offered the Jubilee Singers
Location: Philadelphia, PA

     REFERRING TO THE recent insult offered the Jubilee Singers by the Toronto hotel-keepers, The Citizen of that city, for a copy of which we are indebted to F.J. Louden, says:
  
      “Their recent visit to Canada has been most successful. The action of certain Toronto hotel-keepers in refusing them admission on account of their color, has caused a reaction in their favor, and the citizens, from the Mayor and ex-Vice Chancellor Blake down to the humblest of them, have vied with each other to do them honor. The Press, too, was aroused by the cowardly distinction. Globe, Mail, Telegram, World and News all championed the cause of the signers, and Canada's Cartoonist, Mr. Grip, employed his powerful pencil to the discomfiture of the hotel-keepers and the honor of the singers.”

In the next few weeks during Black History Month I will be publishing biographies based on research I've done on a few of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. They deserve to be remembered.

Image: The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1882. They are, from left to right, Patti Malone, George E. Barrett, Mattie L. Lawrence, C.W. Payne, Ella Shepard (seated), F.J. Loudin, Maggie L. Porter (seated), B.W. Thomas, and Mabel R. Lewis (seated).

Source for all newspaper accounts from The Christian Recorder from Accessible Archives

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