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The Jubilee Singers

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

This group of students, named the Fisk Jubilee Singers, sung what was referred to as "Negro spirituals," which combined music from the period of slavery with gospel and religious influences. The group would have to go from city to city to perform in order to raise money for the school. Although these students were talented singers, it was unclear whether it would be successful.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers would travel across the country to hold concerts and send the proceeds back to Nashville to support the school. In October 1871, they had an early concert on their tour in Columbus, Ohio-the day after the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed over three square miles of the city and left over 100,000 people without a home. The students, who had made $30 on their concert, sent the entire amount to aid the citizens of Chicago even though the Jubilee Singers had no money, either. Their generosity generated a lot of publicity, and more people wanted to book concerts and hear these singers.

Word continued to spread about this group of students as their tour continued into the Northeast. Their concerts netted $20,000 in the first six months-enough to purchase a new campus and build a dorm. Jubilee Hall is named in their honor and is the first permanent dormitory for African Americans in the United States. The popularity of the Jubilee Singers became nationwide in 1872 when the group was invited to perform for President Ulysses S. Grant at Lincoln Hall in Washington, D.C. The group was also invited to sing for Queen Victoria in England in 1872, who was so impressed by the Jubilee Singers that she commissioned her royal portrait artist to paint a full-size portrait of the group, which she donated to Fisk University.

In 1880, the book "The Story of the Jubilee Singers and their Song" was published, and word spread of the story of the singers and their success nationwide. The book in Fisk University's color of blue featured Fisk's Jubilee Hall on the cover. Inside, songs and lyrics were included in the first book about Nashville musicians in history. A British version was also published and prominently told the story of the students, the school and Nashville to an international audience. The popular book helped spread the word that these students were from Nashville, thus giving the city an affiliation with music.

In 1882, the Jubilee Singers performed for a United States President for the second time and visited the White House for the first time. President Chester Arthur, a fan of classical and opera, invited the Jubilee Singers to perform and was moved to tears after their performance. The Jubilee Singers' popularity continued to grow, and by this time the group had raised more than $200,000 for the school.

After the Civil War, Nashville was one of the top cities outside of New York City to purchase musical instruments and pianos. Nashville also manufactured guitars, violins, mandolins and pianos during this time, as the city's music brand continued to grow.

In 1896, Richard H. Boyd, a former slave, founded the National Baptist Publishing Board in Nashville. The new company produced and printed religious material for African American churches, including music and hymnals. Printed in Nashville, these music books continued to help Nashville's image as a place for music.

By the early 20th century, Nashville was known as a music publisher of sheet music, which people bought to play music by piano. These printed music booklets with words and music were popular before the creation of records and the advent of radio. Live music was not nearly as accessible during this time, so a popular method to hear and play music was by sheet music played on a piano.

The advent of radio and WSM brought Nashville music to households across America. Country music's most famous radio station started in 1925, and by the 1930s WSM had a 50,000 watt station that could be heard in over 40 states. The Grand Ole Opry, country music's most famous show and the longest-running radio show in the world today, also started in 1925. This helped the popularity of this new music form. The Opry was performed and broadcast from the Belcourt Theatre from 1934 to 1936, which is very close to Music Row. In its earliest days, Music Row was anchored by recording studios and record labels. Artists first came to Music Row to record music, and record labels opened up Nashville offices due to the proximity of the recording studios.

Celebrate Nashville - Music Row


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