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Slave Spirituals and the Jubilee Singers

Slave Spirituals and the Jubilee Singers
Author: Michael L. Cooper
ISBN 13: 9780395978290
ISBN 10: 395978297
Edition: First
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: 2001-09-27
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 96
List Price: $16.00

Many slave spirituals—songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” and “Go Down, Moses”—have become interwoven into the fabric of American culture. For centuries these deeply moving songs were sung by slaves as they worked in the fields. In 1871, six years after the end of slavery, a group from Fisk University known as the Jubilee Singers toured the United States and abroad, raising money for their bankrupt school and, more important, bringing slave spirituals to the attention of a wide audience. This engrossing account, illustrated with archival prints and photographs and appended with the words and music to seven songs, tells the inspiring story of the Jubilee Singers and reveals spirituals to be an invaluable and unique history of American slavery.


This attractive, well-illustrated book tells the story of the famous Jubilee Singers, who popularized and helped preserve slave spirituals following the Civil War. Growing from African origins, spirituals and work songs were an important part of slave life in the antebellum South. Sometimes accompanied with dancing, music was used to set work rhythm, express personal feelings, communicate with other slaves, and for worship. After drums were used to coordinate a 1739 slave rebellion, they were outlawed, but banjos and fiddles were common. The voice was the primary instrument. Slave owners were suspicious of silent slaves, and a good musician could better his lot by providing entertainment for his master. Slaves, who disliked the reprimands in white sermons, held their own lively, song-filled praise meetings at night. In 1871, the Fisk School in Nashville, one of many postwar schools for emancipated slaves, was impoverished and threatened with closure. Music director George White and twelve students were authorized to tour the northern states to raise money for the school. When they sang in the New York church of Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous minister in the country, the Jubilee Singers' fortunes were made. Before their relationship ended in 1875, they had performed before Queen Victoria and in many foreign countries, raising enough money to buy additional land and to build a new Fisk campus. A final chapter traces the lives of some Jubilee singers after the group was dissolved. Simple vocabulary and factual focus make this book suitable for upper elementary, middle, and high school readers interested in African American history. Some hand-selling might be required, but the excellentphotos and sparse text will attract readers at all levels. Index. Illus. Photos. Source Notes. Further Reading. Appendix. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Clarion, 86p, $16. Ages 11 to 18. Reviewer: Laura Woodruff SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)