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February 13, 2010

Fisk Jubilee Singers singing spirituals since 1871

News Tribune (WA):

When the Fisk Jubilee Singers first formed a group singing a cappella spirituals, they weren’t just introducing audiences to songs that had been heard before only by slaves. They were crossing boundaries: political, racial, social and spiritual. It had a huge effect. The group will perform in Tacoma this weekend.

“When the Fisk Singers came to my hometown in Arkansas in 1954, my father was on the symphony board, so one of them stayed in our home,” says Dr. Diana Marre, a Tacoman and longtime fan of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. “My mother hit the ceiling – it was obviously a color thing. It was unprecedented to do that. But the impact of their singing on the white members of the symphony was tremendous. People had tears in their eyes. And they’ll have the same effect here.”

Formed in 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers have been credited with introducing the Negro spiritual to the world and making it mainstream. In their first half-century, they broke racial norms as they toured Europe and performed for kings and queens. In 2008, the group received the National Medal for Arts, the nation’s highest artistic honor. This year, they were nominated for a Grammy. They’ve collaborated with performers from Jonny Lang to Neil Young and were the subject of a 1999 award-winning PBS documentary.

But their real effect, as Murre says, is on the audiences who hear them. Despite an ever-changing makeup (the 16 singers always are students at Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn.), the Fisk Singers still sing the same powerful spirituals as they did in 1871, just different arrangements. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at February 13, 2010 12:30 AM

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