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Fisk Jubilee Singers, First African-American Choir To Perform at White House

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were organized in 1871. The group was composed of African-American students at Fisk University. They were known for their traditional spiritual slave songs and introducing them to the world. The group was first organized as a fundraising effort for the University, facing serious financial issues at that time. To keep the school from closing Fisk’s treasure and music director, George White organized the group to travel to earn money. At the time the school was the only school providing higher education to African-Americans.


On October 6, 1871, the students went on tour; they toured along the Underground Railroad path, and performed later in Europe. The first 18 months they performed in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and many other states within the U.S. Many people welcomed the performance because it was a break away from the commonly seen “#black minstrel shows” where white musicians dressed in blackface. But, the group were dealing with hard times out on the road. There were many nights the singers were going without food, or a place to sleep. People were rude and unwilling to rent them a room in a hotel.

The group continued to tour and soon became highly recognized and praised; they eventually raised $40,000 to help Fisk University. In early 1872, the group performed at the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival in Boston, and they were invited to perform for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House in March of that year. They toured Great Britain and Europe in 1875 t0 July 1878 and raised an estimated amount of $150,000 for the university, funds were used to construct Fisk’s first permanent building, Jubilee Hall. The original group stop touring in 1878, and a new group was formed in 1879 under the direction of George White and singer Frederick J. Loudin.


Written by PH

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