JUBILEE SINGERS SACRIFICE AND GLORY: American Experience – Documentary

The profound and inspiring story of students who battled prejudice and oppression to sing their way into the nation’s heart.

On November 16, 1871, a group of unknown singers — all but two of them former slaves and many of them still in their teens — arrived at Oberlin College in Ohio to perform before a national convention of influential ministers. After a few standard ballads, the chorus began to sing spirituals — “Steal Away” and other songs” associated with slavery and the dark past, sacred to our parents,” as soprano Ella Sheppard recalled. It was one of the first public performances of the secret music African Americans had sung in fields and behind closed doors. More

Jubilee Quartet Tradition

The Fisk University Jubilee Quartet in 1909, from left: Alfred G. King (first bass), James A. Myers (second tenor), Noah W. Ryder (second bass) and John W. Work II (first tenor).

Courtesy of Doug Seroff  (Listen here)

Abbott, Lynn, and Doug Seroff. To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.

The authors discuss how the jubilee quartet tradition emanated from the revival of university-based vocal harmony singing, most notably the Fisk Jubilee Quartet and its leader, John Work II. They further examine the mining camps of Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama, and on to Chicago and New Orleans. Early in the twentieth century there were countless initiatives in support of African American vocal music training conducted on both national and local levels. Later, singers such as Silas Steele added the pulpit zeal of the Baptist preacher to jubilee quartet, opening the door for the hard gospel quartet style that dominated the 1950s and 1960s.