Fisk University celebrated the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ 150th anniversary last week.
According to NBC News, nine students began an 18-month singing tour on October 6, 1971, in order to raise money for the legendary HBCU. The tour raised $40,000 and helped contribute to the land that Fisk University was built upon and to donate funds to the victims of the fire that ravaged Chicago that same year.
While October 6 serves as the anniversary of the Singers’ first tour, it is also the date when the next class of Jubilee Singers is revealed.
“Celebrating the 150th anniversary, I consider it a day on which those young men and women should be honored,” Kwami Davis, the Jubilee Singers’ music director told NBC News. “It is also another day for us to let the world know that the first few listeners’ legacy continues to thrive and should serve also as an inspiration for young men and women who are attending Fisk University, particularly those who are currently Fisk Jubilee Singers.”
NBC News noted the resilience of Fisk University, and the underfunding of HBCUs:
The anniversary of the Fisk Jubilee Singers comes amid renewed interest in historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, like Fisk. Enrollments and private endowments have risen at many HBCUs nationally after years of federal underfunding and a lack of private donations. Federal funding for private HBCUs decreased by 42 percent from 2003 to 2015, according to a 2019 report by the American Council on Education.
Even as the Fisk Jubilee Singers have dealt with their own challenges, such as rehearsing in inadequate spaces that lacked air conditioning — which sometimes resulted in the 16-member ensemble’s practicing in temperatures over 83 degrees — the choir, which won a Grammy Award this year, has managed to contribute to the university’s coffers by raising $25,000 to $50,000 a year.
Nikki Giovanni, who graduated from Fisk in 1967, served as the keynote speaker for the “Jubilee Day” celebration. She spoke about how pivotal the group’s songs were as well how those spirituals fully expressed the emotion of slavery, the Tennessean reports.
“We were put on a block, and we were bought, and we were sold, and we were bought, and we were sold,” Giovanni said. “And the only language we still had was the music that had been passed down from Jesus to Mary Magdalene.
NBC News reports that over the last four years, Fisk’s enrollment has increased—which led to a heightened interest in the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and how to audition. This, along with the anonymous donation of $1.5 million that the Singers received last month, will help in preserving the legacy of the University and its Grammy award-winning vocal group.
The celebration will continue on November 11, with the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ performance at a benefit concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.