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