IF YOU GO
■ What: Fisk University Jubilee Singers in concert.
■ When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3.
■ Where: Athens City Middle School auditorium,
200 Keith Lane, Athens, Tenn.
■ Admission: $18 adults in advance, $10 students
(plus fees if purchased online); $20 adults at the door.
■ Phone: 423-745-8781.
The Athens Area Council for the Arts continues its Big Time/Small Town Performance Season on Monday, Feb. 3, with a concert by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers.
The vocal artists comprising this acclaimed group are all current students at Fisk University in Nashville. The original Jubilee Singers broke racial barriers in the U.S. and abroad when they introduced "slave songs" to the world in 1871. They were instrumental in preserving the unique American music tradition known today as Negro spirituals.
In 1999, the ensemble was featured in "Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory," an award-winning PBS television documentary series, produced by WGH/Boston. In 2008, the group received the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest honor for artists and patrons of the arts.
Monday's performance will include a cappella spirituals from the ensemble's repertoire. The singers also will present an educational performance for students at McMinn County High School while in Athens.
Tickets are cheaper in advance. They may be purchased at The Arts Center, 320 N. White St. in Athens; through the center's website or by phone or email.
HOW IT STARTED
The first group of Fisk Jubilee Singers arranged the music, spirituals originally sung by slaves before the Civil War, and took it on the road on Nov. 16, 1871. The unknown singers— all but two former slaves and many still in their teens — arrived at Oberlin College in Ohio to perform before a national convention of ministers.
After a few standard ballads, the chorus sang spirituals and other songs associated with slavery. It was one of the first public performances of the secret music African-Americans sang in the fields and behind closed doors for generations.
“All of a sudden there was no talking,” says musicologist and former Jubilee Singers musical director Horace C. Boyer.
“They said you could hear the soft weeping… and I’m sure that the Jubilee Singers were joining them in tears,
because sometimes when you think about what you are singing, particularly if you believe it, you can’t help but be