Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jubilee Singers preserving Negro spiritual tradition: Greeneville Appearance on Saturday

On Nov. 16, 1871, a group of unknown singers — all but two former slaves and many still in their teens — arrived at Oberlin College in Ohio to perform before a national convention of ministers.

After a few standard ballads, the Jubilee Singers presented a selection of spirituals and other songs associated with slavery. It was one of the first public performances of the secret music African-Americans had been singing in the fields and behind closed doors for generations.

“All of a sudden, there was no talking,” said Horace C. Boyer, a musicologist and former musical director of the Jubilee Singers. “They said you could hear the soft weeping…and I’m sure that the Jubilee Singers were joining them in tears, because sometimes when you think about what you are singing, particularly if you believe it, you can’t help but be moved.”

Nearly a century and a half later, the Fisk Jubilee Singers — an a cappella ensemble made up of vocal artists and students from Fisk University in Nashville — remain dedicated to keeping the Negro spiritual tradition alive and well.

The Singers will perform for a local audience at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 28 at Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Greeneville. The show is sponsored by Walters State Community College.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students and $17 each for groups.

The original Jubilee Singers introduced “slave songs” to the world in 1871 and were instrumental in preserving this unique American musical tradition known today as Negro spirituals.

They broke racial barriers in the United States and abroad in the late 19th century and entertained kings and queens in Europe. At the same time, they raised money in support of their beloved school.

In 1999, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were featured in “Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory,” a PBS award-winning television documentary series produced by WGBH-TV, Boston.

The Jubilee Singers went on a sacred journey to Ghana in 2007 at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy. It was a history-making event, as the ensemble traveled to Ghana for the first time and joined in the celebration of the nation’s Golden Jubilee, its 50th independence anniversary.

In 2008, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were selected as a recipient of the 2008 National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artists and patrons of the arts. The award was presented by President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush during a ceremony at the White House.

The Singers continue the tradition of singing the Negro spiritual around the world, allowing the ensemble to share this rich culture globally while preserving the unique music.

NPAC is located adjacent to Greeneville High School at 212 Tusculum Blvd. in Greeneville.

For tickets or more information, call the NPAC box office at (423) 638-1679 or visit www.greenevillenpac.com

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