How it Began: University Jubilee Quartets

Jubilee Background

Jubilee is a biblical term that nearly means to shout with joy and Black people did just that, which brought to us Jubilee singing. Jubilee singing started in neighborhoods, churches, barbershops, and historically Black colleges and universities. In a typical manner, something that started small and I’m sure a hobby became main acts on big stages. Jubilee singers were typically, but not limited to, quartets. The singers were dressed in their sharpest attire to perform and usually sung in a cappella. 

Jubilee singing at Fisk University

The Jubilee period was 1880-1929 and was so motivating to Black people because this was the first time Black people were showing talent on stage. This was different than folk music and negro spirituals because that wasn’t done freewill, unlike jubilee singing. Jubilee singing brought new respect and perspective to Black people.

Because Fisk University was facing financial debt, the music teacher and administration formed a choir (Fisk Jubilee Quartets) to sing negro spirituals to raise money for their university. What went from saving their school became a phenomenon leading them to go on tour. They quickly saved the university because after just one year of touring they raised $40,000.  Fisk University still honors the original quartets today with Jubilee day which is held annually on October 6.

Following the Fisk Jubilee Quartets legacy, there were many quartets to come after them which consists of my personal favorite: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers!

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