Fisk Forever: The History and Legacy of Arranged Spirituals

The Fisk Jubilee singers were the forefront for the creation of HBCU choruses by being the first to present an arranged style of music.

Fisk University is an institution that was founded in 1866 for newly freed African-American people. The University faced financial hardship shortly after its beginnings. As a resolution, George White, the secretary of the institution, proposed the idea of traveling performance with arranged spirituals. At the advent of this unprecedented venture, a group of 5 women and 4 men, known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, were birthed.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers exemplified a deviation from folk spirituals. In arranged concert spirituals, the length of the arrangement is dependent on the score with clear harmonic parts and no dancing. This style of singling closely resembles European timbre due to western classical vocal techniques.

The Fisk campaign set the tone for the formation of other choruses within the HBCU community. As a Nashville native, the Fisk Jubilee singers created an everlasting impact for Nashville itself. In 1873, the Fisk Jubilee Singers toured Europe where they performed for Queen Victoria. She was so impressed, insisted they came from “Music City,” an epithet that Nashville is know as contemporarily and gifted them Jubilee hall.

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