spiritual singers, Nashville
Tennessee Folklife Heritage Award (2007)
Immediately following the Civil War and Emancipation, Fisk University in Nashville was founded to address the mission of African American education. Soon after, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were formed and began a long history of worldwide concert touring to raise funds for the university. They adapted Negro spirituals—the religious folksongs of slavery—to a staged choral style, and through them championed the causes of African American dignity, social betterment, and civil rights. Both musically and socially, this unique group had profound impact on American cultural history, and after more than 130 years they remain as active and important as ever. In 2007, the Tennessee Arts Commission initiated an American Masterpieces project to celebrate the spirituals and the Fisk Jubilee Singers with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The project has involved Director Paul Kwami and his current group in educational and performance activities to enhance appreciation for their remarkable Tennessee legacy.