How Spirituals Helped Build Hampton University

When one speaks of music’s power, they typically are only talking about how music is an emotionally empowering tool. Yet, in many scenarios, music can be powerful in other ways. For instance, if it were not for the African American spiritual, Hampton University may not have become the institution they are today. The African American spiritual helped fund Hampton University financially by influencing the creation of the Hampton Singers whom helped created the groundwork for the institution’s future.

Mainstream Spirituals

The African American spiritual (or the Negro Spiritual) is a type of religious music closely correlated with African Americans’ enslavement in the formative years of the United States. Spirituals served as a way for enslaved African Americans to express their faith, or religion, as well as their woes and hopes. Following the abolishment of legalized slavery in the United States, those very same spirituals that were so often sung by enslaved African Americans on plantations in the South found their way across the nation. In the 1860s, the publication of African American spirituals led to an increase in interest in them from across the United States, causing for the creation of the Fisk University Jubilee  Singers.

Who Were the Fisk University Jubilee Singers?

The Fisk University Jubilee Singers were created in the 1870s and consisted of a chorus of former slaves from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. They toured not only all over the United States but also in Europe, and their concert performances helped generate international interest in African American spirituals. Due to the Fisk University Jubilee Singers’ global appeal, a movement was sparked across the United States, influencing another Black college to create their own ensemble.

The Birth of the Hampton Singers

Many consider one of the first ensembles to rival the Fisk University Jubilee Singers to be the Hampton Singers of Hampton Institute, a group that was founded in 1873. The Hampton Singers quickly rose in popularity internationally under the supervision of R. Nathaniel Dett, the group’s conductor. Dett helped magnify the appeal of the Hampton Singers through his conducting abilities and his emotional arrangements of spirituals and original compositions influenced by spirituals. 

Financially Supporting Hampton University

Similar to one of the reasons the Fisk University Jubilee Singers were created, the Hampton Singers were not made just to bring spirituals to the general public. They were also created with the intent to help raise money for the young institution. In total, the Hampton Singers raised more than $300,000 for the school just by performing African American spirituals and plantation songs. Officials of the university credit the Hampton Singers with providing the majority of the young school’s early endowment. They also helped improve the school’s infrastructure by providing the funds to help build a women’s dormitory, Virginia-Cleveland Hall, that was completed in 1875. 

The Hampton Singers Today

 The once Hampton University Singers evolved into the Hampton University Choir, which carries on its early predecessor’s legacy. From performing in America to overseas in Europe, the Hampton University Choir has continued to provoke interest. Although the songs performed have diversified, the Hampton University Choir and Hampton University continue to be a place for those who are musically inclined. 

As can be determined from the above paragraphs, the Hampton Singers helped give Hampton University the funds it needed to grow and mature into the institution it is today. Not only did the Hampton Singers raise more than $300,000 for the school, but they also helped provide the funds to improve the institution’s infrastructure. All of this not only illustrates how integral the Hampton Singers were to the growth of Hampton University but also how vital African American spirituals were to the institution’s growth as without Negro spirituals, there would have been no Hampton Singers.



“African American Spirituals.” The Library of Congress,






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