February 1, 2014

Black History Month: Who Were the Jubilee Singers

Black History Month: Who Were the Jubilee Singers
February is Black History Month so I am going to talk about the Canadian Jubilee Singers and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. I'd never heard of either group until I saw a Murdoch Mysteries episode in January. It featured the Canadian Jubilee Singers as the historical aspect of that episode. I became interested and decided to do some research.

The Canadian Jubilee Singers were a group of black African-American singers and musicians. The group was based on the successful Fisk Jubilee Singers from Fisk University in Tennessee, but the singers in the Canadian group were almost all from the Hamilton area of Ontario Canada. 

The Canadian Jubilee singers made their appearance in 1878 when William and Sadie Carter organized the group.It became very successful and toured Great Britain for 5 years and United States for 3. 

Black History Month: Who Were the Jubilee Singers
Researching the original members was not an easy task but as near as I can determine from various online resources the original group consisted of the following members:
  • Prof. Cockbin of Hamilton – bass
  • Maud Young – soprano from Hamilton
  • Alice Dowden - Soprano from Hamilton
  • Mrs. Bland-O’Banyoun – mezzo soprano married to Josephus O'Banyon
  • Ernest O’Banyoun son of Josephus, Baritone
  • Minnie Parker from Chatham
  • Mrs. Cockbin, Hamilton, accompanist wife of Professor Cockbin
  • James Escort (Jimmie) Lightfoot
  • Nathan Warner, trombone
  • Hattie Butler
  • James Thomas
  • W. T. Cary and his wife Fannie Stewart 
It took me some time to cobble together the list above from various sources. Many had only initials and no full names. I was able to find more about each member, including their full names and I will share that information in future blog posts.

Over the month of February I will be posting bios with the research I have done on several of the members of the group. Given how difficult it has been to find information on them, I think it even more important to publish on this blog what I have found. My hope is that they will not be forgotten or overlooked as an important part of Canadian history.

Credit: Image ID: 1240264. Famous Canadian Jubilee singers male quartette, plantation lullabies. ca 1890s. http://digitalgallery.nypl.org
Credit: Jubilee Singers Flyer Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R5500-22

2 comments:

Alan said...

Thank you for looking into this remarkable group. My wife and I have been researching them for quite a while as she has at least four family members who were part of the ensemble. This singing and music tradition continues with her family today. My brother-in-law was recently inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. My nephew was inducted, as part of Public Enemy, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. My wife was herself a successful singer/actress for a number of years. She has told me of trips to visit her great uncle in NYC. He was a member of the Famous Canadian Jubilee Singers as well as the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He lived in Harlem most of his adult life. This is a part of Candian history that should be as well documented in text books at it has been done by you.... thanks again.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Alan, thank you for sharing on my blog. I am fascinated by these forgotten stories and forgotten/overlooked ancestors.

I wish I could document them all!