Fisk Jubilee Singers

A Stirring Field Trip: Meigs Students Learn Songs, History from Fisk Jubilee Singers
Posted on 02/10/2023
Meigs students outside of TPAC

Meigs Middle Magnet School loaded nearly 700 students onto buses Wednesday to attend a performance by the Fisk Jubilee Singers at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where they learned some important history and some beautiful and moving songs. Meigs students at TPAC

The Jubilee Singers’ interim musical director, Dr. Anthony Williams, taught students the history of Fisk University and how the Jubilee Singers, a group of Fisk students, were formed as a choral ensemble to raise money for the Nashville school to remain open after the threat of closure in the 19th century. Between performances of Negro spirituals, Williams shared a story of the student-singers traveling to Europe and performing for Queen Victoria of England in 1873.

Stephanie Clemson, a Gifted & Talented Education teacher at Meigs, organized the trip to TPAC for Black History Month. Clemson was thrilled to have most of the student body attend.

“I expressed to the students how privileged they are to be able to see this performance because the Jubilee Singers are students, too, and they don’t perform very often,” Clemson said.

The Jubilee Singers opened the show with their rendition of a classic American Negro Spiritual, “Steal Away,” originally composed by a formerly enslaved man, Wallace Willis, in 1862.

Fisk University and TPAC have partnered to bring these performances to students from across Tennessee for over 15 years, and Meigs students were especially excited to be present. They cheered when the singers concluded their performance of an up-tempo song called “Great Camp Meeting.”

“The story and artistry of the Fisk Jubilee Singers are at the heart of Nashville,” said Roberta Ciuffo West, TPAC’s executive vice president for education and community engagement. “Tennessee Performing Arts Center has enjoyed a proud partnership with the legendary ensemble over the last 15 years, welcoming student audiences to experience live and virtual performances by the Fisk Jubilee Singers while exploring their exceptional legacy. As we celebrate Black History Month, we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to share this world-renowned ensemble with new generations of Metro Nashville Public Schools students.” students sitting inside TPAC

The experience for Meigs students was not only about learning from the past but also pointing towards the future. The Jubilee Singers wrapped up the 13-song show singing William Dawson’s version of “Ain’a That Good News” and holding a round-robin question-and-answer session with the Meigs students in grades 5-8, who were eager to pick the brains of the college students and hear about their plans.

The Jubilee Singers shared that they are not only singers; their goals also include attending medical school, becoming engineers and entrepreneurs, working in film production, composing, and working in musical theater.

Williams honored the memory of Dr. Paul T. Kwami, who was the longest-serving director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Kwame, who died in 2022 after 28 years in the role, composed one of their songs, “Great Day,” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Jubilee Singers heading out on tour in 1871. This day is known as Jubilee Day on the campus of Fisk University, where Jubilee Hall, funded by the singers’ travels and dedicated in 1876, still stands today.

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