2008 National Medal of Arts
Fisk Jubilee Singers are being recognized for their significant contributions to preserving African American spirituals. For 137 years, the chorus has performed in the United States and around the world, sharing America's rich cultural heritage.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers are students of Fisk University, an historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee. Opened in 1866, it became the first American university to offer a liberal arts education to "young men and women irrespective of color." Five years later, when the school was in dire financial straits, a music professor created the nine-member choral ensemble of students and took it on tour to earn money for the university.
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. In 1872 they sang at the World Peace Festival in Boston and later in the year for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House.
In 1873 the group toured Europe for the first time. Funds raised that year were used to construct the school's first permanent building, Jubilee Hall. Today Jubilee Hall, a designated National Historic Landmark, is one of the oldest structures on campus. The beautiful Victorian Gothic building houses a floor-to-ceiling portrait of the original Jubilee Singers, commissioned by Queen Victoria during their 1873 tour, as a gift from England to the college.
In 1999, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were featured in The American Experience, a PBS award-winning television documentary series in a program titled "Singers: Sacrifice and Glory."
More recently, the Tennessee Arts Commission used its American Masterpieces funds from the National Endowment for the Arts to produce a detailed teacher's guide focusing on the important history of the Fisk Jublilee Singers and the African American spiritual. The educational guide, with accompanying CD and DVD titled "The Fisk Jubilee Singers: Singing Our Song," has been distributed to more than 1,700 schools in Tennessee.
In July 2007 at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, the Fisk Jubilee Singers traveled to Ghana for the first time and joined the Ghanaians in celebrating their nation's 50th anniversary of independence.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency