A resolution recognizing Fisk University Jubilee Day on the occasion of their Sesquicentennial.

WHEREAS, every year Fisk University celebrates Jubilee Day on October 6th at 10 a.m; and

WHEREAS, Fisk University celebrates this Jubilee Day on the occasion of its sesquicentennial; and

WHEREAS, Fisk University is the oldest institution of higher learning in Nashville, Tennessee; and

WHEREAS, Fisk has provided a fundamental role in the education of African-Americans for generations as a historically black university; and

WHEREAS, more than 147 years later, the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University continue the concert tradition begun by that courageous original chorus of former slaves; and

WHEREAS, they are the first internationally acclaimed group of African-American musicians who attained first recognition, then fame, and along the way, financed their school; and

WHEREAS, talented vocal artists introduced "slave songs" to the world and, in many opinions, preserved this music from extinction; and

WHEREAS, in 1871, the nine original Jubilee Singers ensemble toured the United States and Europe; and

WHEREAS, funds raised by the Jubilee Singers during their international concerts were used to construct the school's first permanent building, Jubilee Hall. Jubilee Hall, one of the oldest structures in use at Fisk University, is designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. This beautiful Victorian Gothic building houses a ceiling-to-floor portrait of the original Jubilee Singers, commissioned by Queen Victoria of England as a gift to Fisk University; and

WHEREAS, in the decade following the Civil War, this group of young ex-slaves in Nashville, Tennessee set out on a mission to save their financially troubled school by giving concerts. Traveling first through cities in the North, then on to venues across Europe, the Jubilee Singers introduced audiences to the power of spirituals, the religious anthems of slavery; and

WHEREAS, 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; and

WHEREAS, group of former slaves who battled prejudice and oppression to sing their way into a nation’s heart; and

WHEREAS, they would perform for presidents and queens, tour the United States and Europe, and establish songs like "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "This Little Light of Mine" as a cherished part of the nation’s musical heritage; and

WHEREAS, established in January 1866, Fisk taught freed slaves how to count their wages, how to write the new names they had chosen for themselves, and read both the ballot and the Bible; and

WHEREAS, in order to keep the financially strapped school afloat, treasurer George Leonard White proposed taking Fisk’s most gifted singers on a fundraising tour of the North; and

WHEREAS, following the path of the Underground Railway, the group debuted in Cincinnati; and

WHEREAS, life on the road took its toll as White and the singers endured rheumatism, bronchitis, chronic coughs. Their clothes ran to rags. But after the triumphant Oberlin performance, word started to spread. In December, the Jubilee Singers appeared at Henry Ward Beecher’s weekly prayer meeting at Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church. "Every church wanted the Jubilee Singers from that time on," wrote Maggie Porter. They sang for Mark Twain, President Ulysses S. Grant, congressmen, diplomats; and

WHEREAS, $20,000 was brought back which purchased the site of Fisk University; and

WHEREAS, the group raised what today would be millions of dollars, but they paid a terrible price. Worn down by the relentless schedule, an advance man suffered a nervous breakdown. George White lost his wife to typhoid fever. White himself nearly died of a pulmonary hemorrhage. Contralto Minnie Tate’s voice was torn to shreds. Tenor Benjamin Holmes’s nagging cough was caused by tuberculosis. They faced discrimination on the road and from the press. A grueling tour of Germany -- ninety-eight days, forty-one towns, sixty-eight concerts -- brought with it low morale, frayed nerves, and rivalries among the singers; and

WHEREAS, after almost seven years of touring, the Jubilee Singers returned home and were honored by Fisk for raising the funds to complete Jubilee Hall and save their school; and

WHEREAS, their contributions extended far beyond Fisk University as they had introduced the world to the power of spirituals and challenged racial stereotypes on two continents. "In their wake, hotels, railways, steamship lines, and boards of education integrated their facilities. The Jubilees not only introduced the world to the music of black America, they championed the liberties of all Americans," says Andrew Ward, co-writer of the documentary and author of "Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers."; and

WHEREAS, it is fitting and proper that the Metropolitan Council recognizes Fisk University for its academic excellence as we celebrate Jubilee Day on the occasion of their Sesquicentennial.


Section 1. The Metropolitan Council hereby goes on record as recognizing Fisk University Jubilee Day on the occasion of their Sesquicentennial.

Section 2. The Metropolitan Council Office is directed to prepare a copy of this Resolution to be presented to President Frank L. Sims; Paul T. Kwami, Endowed Chair of the Fisk Jubilee Singers; and students, alumni, faculty, staff and trustees of Fisk University.

Section 3. This Resolution shall take effect from and after its adoption, the welfare of The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requiring it.

Sponsored by: Freddie O'Connell, Burkley Allen


Referred to: Rules, Confirmations, and Public Elections Committee
Introduced: September 20, 2016
Adopted: September 20, 2016
Returned unsigned by the Mayor: September 21, 2016

Requests for ADA accommodation should be directed to the Metropolitan Clerk at 615/862-6770.