In 1871, the first group of university jubilee quartet singers was formed at Fisk University. The group was created by the school’s treasurer, George White, as a way to raise money for the institution. White coined the term “Jubilee Singers” as a name for the group due to the jubilee nature of songs the group would sing. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers consisted of eleven students. The group raised money by touring and recording songs. The first tour followed the Underground Railroad route and was initally not very popular. By the end of their tour, the group had only made $20,000 but as time went on popularity grew. By the end of 1878, the Fisk Jubilee Singers had amassed $120,000. Additionally, their audience had transformed from primarily African American to reaching audiences in Europe. Later, the group went on to record music in 1909, which included their popular song Swing Low Chariot.
The popularity of University Jubilee Quartet singing grew and groups began to form at other HBCUs. Simiarily, Hampton University, formerly Hampton Institute, formed their own Jubilee group; who also recored spirituals and toured in 1915. Other honorable mentions are Tennessee State University, Florida A &M University, and Spelman College.
Modern day University Jubilee Quartets are now known as Glee Clubs or Gospel Choirs. They are larger choral groups who now sing more modernized sprirtuals. These modernized songs bridge the Jubilee tradition while also incorporating styles of today music. These clubs also still tour and record music today.
Overall, Unviersity Jubilee Quartets have an extrordinary history, all starting from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, that has transformed how spirituals are sung today.