Release Date: January 5, 2016
Historic Fisk Jubilee Singers Perform at National Gallery of Art in Recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday
Washington, DC—The historic vocal ensemble Fisk Jubilee Singers will perform a free concert on Sunday, January 17, 2016, at 3:30 p.m. in the West Garden Court of the National Gallery of Art, the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an African American a cappella group, are students at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. The group performs Negro spirituals that were originally sung by slaves prior to the Civil War. The first group of singers, organized in 1871, arranged the music and toured to raise funds for their financially troubled school by giving concerts. They introduced the public to the power of spirituals, the religious anthems of those living in slavery—a genre that remains a vibrant musical tradition today.
On November 16, 1871, a group of unknown singers—all but two who were 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 chorus sang spirituals and other songs associated with slavery. It was one of the first public performances of the “secret music” African Americans had sung in the fields and behind closed doors for generations. The Fisk Jubilee Singers continue the tradition of singing the Negro spiritual around the world, allowing them to share the rich culture globally while preserving this unique music.
Awards and Honors
The Fisk Jubilee Singers continue to thrive as a vocal ensemble today. Among their many awards and achievements are two Grammy nominations; the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest honor for artists and patrons of the arts, presented by President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush during a ceremony at the White House; Music City Walk of Fame; Dove Award for Poor Man Lazarus in the CD In Bright Mansions; induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame; Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the National Arts Club of New York; the Governor’s Award; the Recording Academy Honors; and the Heritage Award of the Nashville Music Awards.
In 1999, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were featured in Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory, an award-winning PBS program. In 2002, the Library of Congress added the choral ensemble’s 1909 recording of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" to the United States National Recording Registry. By a special invitation from the U.S. Department of State in 2007, the Fisk Jubilee Singers participated in the celebration of the 50th Independence Anniversary of Ghanaians. This historic journey became known as “A Sacred Journey.”
In February 1978, the Fisk campus was designated as a National Historic District in recognition of its architectural, historic, and cultural significance.
Concerts at the National Gallery of Art are free of charge and open to the public on a first-come, first-seated basis. Seating begins 30 minutes prior to the concert. Sunday concerts begin at 3:30 p.m. in the West Building's West Garden Court unless indicated otherwise. The entrance to the West Building is located at Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, and the East Building entrance is at Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Monthly listings of concert programs may be obtained by calling (202) 842-6941 or by visiting the Gallery's website at www.nga.gov/programs/music.htm.
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Sarah Edwards Holley