The “Jubilees” were the first choral group to perform slave spirituals such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” for white audiences. Their thrilling concerts made them world famous in the 1870s.
The first “Jubilees” were nine students at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee. Fisk had been founded in 1866 to educate former slaves, and in 1871, George L. White, Fisk’s treasurer, organized the choral group. The Jubilees’ concerts were so popular in Nashville that White thought they might help the school with the financial troubles that plagued its early years. He took the Jubilees on a national tour, which was a great success. Mark Twain, the famous author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, said, “I think that in the Jubliees and their songs America has produced most perfect flower of the ages.” The chorus toured American and Europe for several years and raised $150,000, an enormous sum in those days.
England’s Queen Victoria was so delighted by the Jubilee Singers that she commissioned a painting of the choral group.
The Fisk Jubliee Singers still rank among the nation’s top choral groups. The university invites all students to audition for the group. But it cautions that “only the finest voices on campus are chosen.”