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Walk Together Children: The 150th Anniversary of the Fisk Jubilee Singers (2021)Walk Together Children: The 150th Anniversary of the Fisk Jubilee Singers (2021)

In 1866, the Fisk Free Colored School was opened by the American Missionary Association and a few supporters to educate freed slaves after the end of the Civil War. Perhaps because the school was free to students, in five years it faced a severe financial crisis. So, in 1871, the de facto music teacher and treasurer George White, a white Northern missionary, formed a traveling ensemble of nine students to sing concerts as a way to raise money for the school. He called them the Fisk Jubilee Singers, based upon the Hebrew Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25. As is easy to imagine, sending a black student choir out to tour during Reconstruction was heading into terra incognita. The ensemble sang along the route of the Underground Railroad, then in England and Europe a few years later. They were successful; they raised $20,000 to purchase the land in Nashville where Fisk University is now located (and is the city's oldest institution of higher learning). For the last 150 years the now world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers have showcased the uniquely American genres of slave songs and Negro spirituals that influenced so much of the country's later music. This 54-minute PBS documentary alternates between the spectacular live performances of the choir and the background histories of the original nine members. If you need a jolt of joyful encouragement, watch this film! I watched this film on the PBS website, which released the film on the 150th anniversary of the group (October 6, 2021).

Dan Clendenin:

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