The HBCU Connection to Negro Spirituals

By: Mikayla Reid and Sierra Foster

The connection between the negro spirituals and Historically Black Colleges and Universities is attributable to the first HBCU, Fisk University. Fisks students established the Fisk Jubilee Singers who heavily relied on their performance of negro spirituals to fund their education. Fisk University was founded in 1866 by the American Missionary Association in order to educate the emancipated slaves however, they struggled financially which is why the choir would perform to raise money for the school. The choir had performed the negro spirituals that they also sang while enslaved, so these negro spirituals not only saved them while they were being held but after they were freed, these same spirituals were what enabled them to fund their education and allowed for the growth of the African-American people. At the concerts choirs sang “folk spiritual, which was created as an expression of African-American culture and religion. Through the use of the negro spirituals while on tour they were able to make $20,000 in the first three months and this success led to missionary groups establishing more HBCUs with choirs throughout the country such as Hampton University and the Fairfield Normal Institute. The connection can still be seen to this day with negro spirituals being embraced by historically black colleges and universities having choirs that pay homage and singing renditions of the spirituals. The choirs use unique vocal techniques like heterophony, which are the simulations rendering of slightly different versions of the melody by two or more performers, that was used by the choirs in the earlier concerts. Negro spirituals will forever be embedded within all Historical Black Colleges and Universities due to the crucial role that they played in funding the education of emancipated African-Americans, which we can still see in current times.