Slideshow: Fisk Jubilee Singers Honored at Boston’s Symphony Hall

By 
Mike Keefe-Feldman
February 26, 2016
The Fisk Jubilee Singers with Donna McElroy
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick with Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
Current and former members of the Berklee Jubilee Spirit Ensemble
Maestro Julius P. Williams
Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Berklee's Symphony Hall concert
Paul T. Kwami, musical director for the Fisk Jubilee Singers
Berklee Voice Department faculty sing at Symphony Hall
The Boston Children's Chorus at Berklee Signature Series concert
Dennis Montgomery III, Berklee Ensemble Department professor
The Fisk Jubilee Singers: A Tribute by Berklee College of Music
The Fisk Jubilee Singers, directed by Paul T. Kwami, perform at Boston’s Symphony Hall on Sunday, February 21, as part of Berklee’s Signature Series, joined here by Donna McElroy, a professor in Berklee’s Voice Department, and a 1977 alumna of Fisk University and the Jubilee Singers.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who previously held the top civil rights post with the U.S. Department of Justice, and Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot—a Harvard sociologist, author, professor, and Berklee trustee—provide context and deeper meaning with moving narration in poetry and prose.
Current and former members of Berklee’s Jubilee Spirit Ensemble perform “His Name So Sweet.” Donna McElroy leads the ensemble, teaching the traditional spiritual to students from all over the world.
The concert features a 50-piece orchestra, including faculty members from The Boston Conservatory and Berklee, conducted by Julius P. Williams; the prolific maestro is a professor in Berklee’s Composition Department.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) attends the concert and receives a warm greeting from the rest of the audience and performers.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers are led by music director Paul T. Kwami, the Mike Curb endowed chair and associate professor of music at Fisk. His tenure with the group has included an induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, Grammy nominations, and a National Medal of Arts award.
Berklee faculty members sing “Wade in the Water,” directed and arranged by Jerome Kyles (not pictured here), assistant professor in Berklee’s Voice Department.
The Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) share the stage, singing the traditional spiritual “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” directed by BCC teaching fellow Reed Spencer.
Dennis Montgomery III, a professor in Berklee’s Ensemble Department, performs a passionate rendition of the gospel classic “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” while Joe Galeota, associate professor in the Percussion Department, lends his helping hands.
Kwami and Williams lead all of the instrumentalists and singers involved in a stunning performance of the spiritual “Hold On,” bringing everyone in the Symphony Hall audience to their feet.
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green

On Sunday, February 21, Berklee celebrated the 150th anniversary of one of the nation’s leading historically black colleges, the Nashville, Tennessee-based Fisk University, with a Signature Series salute to—and performances by—the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Since 1871, the renowned choral group has been at the forefront of introducing and sustaining the tradition of the negro spiritual and African American religious music throughout the world.

“We were honored and proud to pay tribute to the towering musical and social achievements of the Fisk Jubilee Singers,” said Berklee President Roger H. Brown after the event, which was also attended by Fisk University President Frank L. Sims. “It was truly a historic evening—the music was uplifting and the narration was immensely powerful.”

That narration, written by Boston-area poet, writer, and Fisk alumnus Terry E. Carter, was delivered by former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Harvard sociologist, author, and professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, who is also a Berklee trustee. The concert featured “songs that covered slavery’s most naked truths and uncovered the strength and character of an enslaved multitude in simultaneous symphony,” Gov. Patrick recited. “Yet despite its captive origins, it is not a music of resignation and acquiescence to a foreign host. It is rather the sound of liberation’s most fervent and hopeful call.”

The Fisk Jubilee Singers, annually composed of current Fisk students selected for the quality and the harmonious capacity of their voices, shined on spirituals such as “There Is a Balm in Gilead” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” among others. In addition, the evening’s lineup of performers included Berklee Voice Department Professor Donna McElroy, a 1977 Fisk alumna; an orchestra featuring faculty members from Berklee and The Boston Conservatory playing pieces composed and conducted by Composition Department Professor Julius Williams; Ensemble Department Professor Dennis Montgomery III; the Boston Children’s Chorus; and student and faculty groups performing songs under the direction of McElroy and Jerome Kyles, assistant professor in Berklee’s Voice Department.

Watch the Fisk Jubilee Singers tribute "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" featuring Dennis Montgomery:

McElroy, who drew a standing ovation for her soul-stirring performance of the traditional spiritual “Soon-Ah Will Be Done,” called the collaboration “magnificent—a night filled with history and song, an entertaining gift from the ancestors.” The tribute event came to life with support from lead sponsors Cathy and Jim Stone and Berklee Presidential Advisory Council member Hassell McClellan, an associate professor of finance and policy at Boston College and a 1967 Fisk alumnus who had previously brought the Fisk Jubilee Singers to Symphony Hall in 1978.

In addition to providing audiences with an inspirational evening to remember for a lifetime, donors contributed more than $50,000 toward a scholarship to support a Berklee student specializing in spiritual and gospel music.

Watch the Berklee Jubilee Celebration Orchestra perform "The Legacy: An Overture of African American Spirituals":