The choral ensemble has been keeping spirituals alive since 1871.

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In October 1871, a choral ensemble from Fisk University went on tour to raise funds for their school, the first American institution to offer a liberal arts education to "young men and women irrespective of color." The students performed spirituals, sharing the music of enslaved people with the rest of the world for the first time. Now, 150 years later, the acclaimed a cappella group still tours, ensuring that the musical legacy stays alive.

Fisk University Jubilee Singers
Credit: Bill Steber and Pat Casey

"Performances of these songs by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other vocalists help preserve the culture of the spirituals, which are unique to the history of the United States," says musical director Paul T. Kwami.

To commemorate the occasion, they released Celebrating Fisk! (The 150th Anniversary Album) last year, earning them their first Grammy Award for Best Roots Gospel Album.

"This award, personally, places me in an attitude of thanksgiving for the following reasons," says Kwami. "It serves as great publicity for Fisk University and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, it recognized the importance of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and their music, and it reminds me of my responsibility as one of many who should preserve the legacy of the Fisk Jubilee Singers."

In addition to the album, the performers are celebrating the big anniversary with a series of concerts to raise funds for the Fisk Jubilee Singers' Endowed Scholarship Fund; a lecture series named after the group's founder, George L. White; the production of an educational film in collaboration with Tennessee Performing Arts Center; and the development of a radio program with Nashville's WPLN. They'll also perform an anniversary concert at the Ryman Auditorium on November 1. Stream a virtual anniversary lecture or concert, learn more about the singers, or donate to the group at theyearofjubilee.org.