thumbnail of American Experience; Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory; Interview with Horace Clarence Boyer, Musicologist
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
the unions are so were ruined and so there's a sense of the what what how are why aren't as a real one president bush the the the warship for the introduction of a negro spiritual takes place on november fifteenth a nobleman ohio baptist association american baptist association had been sponsoring leaving and the jubilee singers got a chance to say what other several different stories about that changing moment and the one with which i'm most familiar is that while the jubilee singers were singing they were treated as a curios looking at them to see if they were in fact like everybody else but talking among the people at the meeting of visiting and while the jubilee singers were attempting to saying this was going out now it is understood that the jubilee singers became slightly offended and said let's
if they're not gonna pay attention to a sled saying something for ourselves since we've already had to do this they started singing steal away steal away that spiritual that is so favorably associated with black moses how you get up and you know they used to say that how it would work wacko way into a plantation it would have to be over twenty five or thirty slaves there because if you saw the sole woman come in and then only two of the slave you won't do that prisoners but if a twenty five or fifty or seventy she can get in there and it's just another field hand and this is what she did she'd get in and get to know these people set this thing up find out who could be trusted and they said when how you'd said when you're missing and steal away a lot and we need such and such a place and said such a time and then that they're underground railroad began but here these people are saying this steal away and you can imagine steal away steal away steal away to jesus steal away steal away
i got along to stay here and when they put that with a disappointment but the good thing is that they were not being paid attention to that will probably feeling i don't have long time to do this and tried to sing before these people you know where are you now that i was set and i can imagine this because i've had to do this sometimes when i've when i felt that i was not getting across to the people i just decided i know saying to myself and when i sing to myself a brain and i'm sure the jubilee singers i'm absolutely certain that they draw with them all the feeling that they had at that particular moment and the emotion of it all now they say that the audience started to cry that you can hear that you can hear the silence just come down and all of a sudden there was no talking and then they said judge could hear soft we bring in the faces of the people reading
and i'm sure that the jubilee singers wood joining them in tears because sometimes when you think about what you're saying a particularly if you believe that you can't help but be moved and this is that i will tell you two things about that number one it calls for people to look at the jubilee singers different number one that we're not sure you know they were black how level but they had on file and roads the air was done they comport themselves like college students because that's what they were and they signed with beautiful voices and secondly people then started listening to the words because these will sell them as an addiction was not the same as those people from ohio and new york and philadelphia and where they will eventually go but they started listening to them and they thought what a beautifully simple fall even if i've not been mostly i don't have long to
stay here i'm going to go home and be with my savior say what you want but these are religious folk song so you've got i have some understanding of and then they began to say well this is not only a musical have never heard but this is a sow but i've never heard and then people began to write insight if the fisk jubilee singers come to this area of the show and going give them it's an experience that you never had before i wonder what you want a reason to set out and start the first pilot for one of the states with what's what's at stake for them when the six have succeeded in concert if if the jubilee singers don't make this if we didn't have a football team we didn't have a basketball team we didn't have a debate team we didn't have a gospel choir to
bring in mining they hadn't thought as mary mcleod bethune will in nineteen oh four to sell to take a pass to bring in money to keep the school going the students are paying a pittance the charges are contributing money some of them why people want to see black people educated are making contributions but that is not enough to keep the school going if that scientists don't bring back some money as many of the schools did during that year the school is going to fall and so that they're saying as what happened to saying at every opportunity sometimes i would sing in church as they would sing for private parties they would sing for teachers sometimes they would ask them to stand on our bodies affect our of place where people were passing and they'd saying and people would give them money if they hadn't been
financially successful the school would have closed and that would've left all of these students without education particularly these singers who went on the trip because by going on the trip that tuition was going to be played through this money so it was a wonderful way not only for the school to remain open both for the students to have to make money i want it as something else to buy teams seventy three the jubilee singers had made and math minds to begin to build jubilee hall at fisk university which is the first building for the education of black folk to buy people ever played for themselves the jubilee singers actually raise a hundred thousand dollars to go back and to purchase a building so you can see and i will say this when i was at the i when i was a student in college and i went i went to a predominantly black school when i was a student in college in the late fifties we did the absolute same think the quiet went out and performed and that was one of the ways that
we help bring in revenue to the interest and the wage many black schools have a sustained themselves it is only now that football teams are beginning to make any money once upon a time they all the money that they made was put back into the room with a heavy uniforms and the training and the choir the music that was very important in helping to sustain many of the plumber into black schools so one so we're hoping that that's happening is that they're also establishing a tradition now i don't i don't know there's the jubilee singers knew him eighteen seventy one that they were establishing a tradition they didn't know is how well by nineteen hundred and i'll tell you why because shortly after that there was so many jubilee singers out there for example the jubilee singers of this came out in eighty and seventy one i think in around eighteen seventy two album came out in a year or so
later tuscany he came out and then you like a junior college in mississippi or utica college in this epic each year these schools saw others jubilee singers over there i'm getting this kind of revenue and let's try and they flooded the market with jubilee singers so much so that around nineteen oh five at fisk they they stop sending out the large group a number of views and set out the fisk jubilee quartet and me and other schools also got a point to so this was kind of at the forefront of all of these wonderful ideas at that like and they will kill the economical and you on whether to turn off camera was what how the houses juicing is changes in other words what was a performer how is a difference with the images are soft there's an interesting discussion about the fisk jubilee singers because the fisk
jubilee singers and were able to find teachers who introduced to them to the european technique of singing the principal element is to place the tone and the mask as an african american i wanted a notice that i'm speaking from the back of my throat using basically though fatty tissues of my mouth for residents now in the baroque period that period from sixteen and seventeen fifteen about the time the buckeyes we developed a style of singing which is then going to come into our present day that style is based on placing the tone and the mask that's right here around the bridge of the nose because this is where you get presents so you talked to place the tone there is to the kind of resonance that i'm getting there and this is
where you're going to place the tone if you're going to say you noticed that's different from where i'm standing the colleges began to teach placing the tone they're pronouns sing the words to be yellow way which is not the way that i would pronounce them and then they're beginning to pick up the elements of european classical singing which is away from the bright church which is away from across the fences your mom talks to the experts at the same time there is something familiar about the hill across the fence there is something rather comforting about the black church so that now the fisk jubilee singers eventually introduced a style of singing the negro spiritual in the concert hall refined the hot art style while oval right now more arrive or sunrise baptist church or bethel
baptist church you have the familiar style and these two styles tend to co exist today now it is fortunately however that we do have the two styles because we would not have known that the negro spiritual with that simple beauty of text of melody and its intricate rhythm could subject itself to the symphony for example as william levi dawson did with negro folk symphony op the opera all the ballet as has been done on the one hand we have that one and we had that through marian anderson paul robeson roland hayes camilla williams laden team prize today of course justin allman and kathleen battle and all of these things and over on the outlook we had the suspect our is on the trains singing
eventually my hated jackson the golden gate quartet and this wine silver tongues singing back and forth these two traditions so co exist with each other i personally think that the church spiritual is the sound that we got from the slate the slaves didn't get a chance to go to the conservator they didn't get a chance to be a cop nine foot steinway they were sweating when they say they would tie when they saying and that's the asylum that i think you get from wednesday night prayer meeting i think that's probably the sound that we heard call from the slaves so to turn what's the division winds in a primitive version thereof yeah this energy this industry
as i've often said when i hear the concert spiritual makes me feel like the one opponent white shirt and a tie and when i hear that wednesday night spiritual makes me feel a woman leaned back so i can get a good position i want to really feel this on that there's a very popular less alive a man has two tunes with a very popular with is this little biden mm mm loaded sharon as opposed to this move to much of mali but i'm more neurotic shaw and here i am concerned with the beauty poise and yes i've this isn't necessarily the only way to do it and if i get some real meaning into it as i do if i overhear i'm concerned with me if i get some beauty into it it's all well and good that a very general statements
but one is is not concerned with beauty one is concerned with the expression of ideas that's the folk tradition and the high art condition you must necessarily be concerned with the technique because that's the basis of the style ok so so give us a sense of the song the ideas of not the president worked with what's been the song sos swing low sweet chariot is says is kind of misleading because it has a beautiful melody it's in what we call the major mole and our and it has some wonderful words but it's kind of a sigh of song because it's a song about death swing low i'm off i'm fascinated by the fact that heroes slaves singing
about a chair and we all know the chariot was reserved for nobility and the military why would slaves want to be in a chariot well they want to be in a chariot because they're going to have when they going to die and it is the belief that when i get to heaven gonna sing and shout till below by nevada put me out they will be like everybody else so that they can ride in a chai common for to carry me home which suggests that perhaps the smiling shuffling hop is sleep that we know so much about isn't really all that happy because they say come and take me home as if this world is not my home and the wonderful reference to join of call lowe says is lower reference to death because join in the spiritual is death will roll jordon roll out one go to heaven when i die to see jordan roll deep river my home is over jordan no one calls over and can't just roll
jordon roll and all of the spiritual say somehow that jordan is a symbol of debt and when you put all of that together you'll see those other misleading because while it's swaying role oh sweet show i suppose it should be sung in a much sadder style because that's what it's actually about what about that now what about human brains it in labor me in the east has as its next line you may bury me in the west but it doesn't it depicts it doesn't sum ok you might hold them to see this year may bury me in the east has often been interpreted as way of the sun comes up wilmore does however the second line is you may bury me in the west and had they gone on they would have the north and south so that the east doesn't really have any significance here it
just means that wherever you bury me on that day when the trumpet of the lord south on the other hand it does mean no matter how you treat me here i'm not going to give up my savings you can flip me you can enslave you could make me wear but i'm not going to give up my god is an nrf you there's another spiritual which says or freedom or freedom or freedom over me and that only if it's over me i'm gonna get some of it and before i'd be a slave i'd be buried in my gray and go home to my mom and briefly there were already slaves whether they mean about him before obviously it means this you may do whatever you want but before you make me chris dodd and diane's job be at home means faith in god i won't put myself in a position to be killed and before i'd be a sleigh i'd be buried in my grave and go home
to my lord and be free photo little boy may have a very dear they decided they were going to go to heaven and then they live that kind of life as a matter of like i'm off i'm fascinated by the fact that the slaves didn't accept christianity at first the africans were not christians when they came there might've been one of two it's only been introduced but basically they were african as they followed the traditional religion or is love which had been introduced into dozens of what gris jennifer they were not they called it the religion of the us and to god they said i can't touch this god i can't see this garlic in here but by the time that they accepted christianity they were ready and once they accepted that was the thing that got them out of slavery because they believed in it and it worked for them and they acted as if they believed that too as a songwriter this little light of mine
of course is the pope is the typical negro spiritual what's the words this little light of mine i'm gonna let it shine line watch this little light of mine i'm gonna let each line to this little light of mine i'm gonna let it shine line three let it shine let it shine let it shine now who could unlearn that into minutes what you watch them out of this that's one note this little light of my eye i am woman let it rise shine the second part was the fear of this little light of my eyes i'm gonna let it shine that's the same as the flowers and then close it out with let it shine let it shine let it shine that means that this christian life i want people i've even not the slave owners to notice that there is something about me which says i'm a good person i am writing i'm gonna walk this road to glory no matter what
you do to me and i you know i don't think i've read it but i'm sure some of the slave owners mostly i can get deadly not the way she's walking in acting right and so high and everybody i'm not going to do it makes a difference in even though we're taught that these men were pretty hard hearted i'm sure it must have had some effect on them and one person what does the lighter miami's that i may not be everywhere but i am somebody is jesse jackson says that i can make a difference and i'm going to make you see that difference in the americans to you i'm not gonna hurt anybody i am going to live such a life that i will go to have a strong belief in heaven and if you see how i'll do which perhaps you'll be persuaded to do the same thing so we're this is happening in his characters that they are providing a source for direction or inspiration for righteous living guest now remember that the the negro
spiritual was the material all about chorus because that's how we function if you look at tuscaloosa and his plays you'll notice that was or when the chorus comes in and comments on the action tells you how everything is working together they become the narrator and they come in and get a sense of what's going on this is exactly what the negro spiritual did it became the commenter the newspaper the walter cronkite of a slavery era to tell you what was happening and to tell you how people felt so this is you can do you can go up people feel for example didn't my lord to live a debt deal delivered daniel to liver damage didn't matter or deliver daniel kish them why not do a little pony that i want to be free and if you do this is how i feel and that's what comes out of the snow
one quart is a commentator with someone says these fires are if you actually introduces sentences if the if the the bull with the gospel records for a while with this for a day to day it could be reconstructed of the song is it's very interesting that i mean i know when you look at the gross spirituals and collections them and many look at the number of songs particularly about the old testament and about the number of israelites who became heroes to the slaves go down moses joshua fit the battle of jericho rock my soul in the bosom of abraham did my lord delivered den little david play on your heart is the kills all the wheel daniel in the lion's den and then the whole altos the mid is constructed right they'll throw these songs that these people that these people put up and of course that's what got them going up and
joshua fit the joshua fought the battle of jericho and the walls came tumbling down how does that affect me slavery becomes a wall and it's gonna fall for example jeremiah asked this question is there no a balm in gilead is there no physician their wordless laissez faire is a balm in gilead today he you the same sex so so the title now clearly that doesn't capture all the words the joy of my head but i guess is the question there is a balm in gilead if it was really true isis saying that i often wondered what drew so you know a nuance that my voice and just a sense of what it's like a sailor and difficulty we
accept that there is a quote i often think of what the jubilee singers went through particularly on that first trip and they traveled each year because singing requires rest if you don't get arrested comes out that the voice is the one thing that we can't camouflage we can't put makeup on the voice and have it come out differently so if you have a cold if you're tired if you're hungry all of these things kind of come out and was in it with these jubilee singers going from town to town they necessarily had to saying whenever someone called on them because that meant money and you could if you didn't do it you would lose money and they were traveling sometimes through on horseback sometimes on on ships on foreigners getting to sleep whenever they could get in to eat whenever they could input up in some very awful places and yet each time they would get up there and
saying the wonderful thing about it was the lives that they would nod and in future years after june seven when there were as many as thirteen and fifteen people traveling and in that way you can give each other some sort of coverage and a little boost to go back on stage because when you're tired just sitting there and you say if i can finish the song tonight i would live if that thing another chorus of this song i would not make that we don't get any of this in the meeting because this isn't what observers would be able to pick up they were obviously very professional because when they sang that's what the people reported law and we'll talk about that no no it's ok so you're to one choral groups saying negro spirituals today's that
does that mean quinn choral groups saying the ego spirituals today in and out of ten cases you'll find that they're unaccompanied volt the fisk jubilee singers used to complement great deal as long as ella shepard was there and even later on but we stopped using piano with them so that we can approximate some of the south that the slaves of the fed since they didn't get to sing spirituals with a comic and further when the slaves was singing spirituals they hadn't been written down while bach and mozart could improvise we did know people who could come in and pick up the spiritual now insult say the negro spiritual was for a number of his company but i notice of people now will saying say jessye norman will sing a complete spiritual are unaccompanied and that even in the solo voice that sounds wonderful except the solo voice is not really the voice for the spiritual
the spirituals were songs of groups of saying this is the brewers' later all is a solo song but when we get the spiritual we get these voices occasionally you'll hear someone accompany a spiritual but i think the pure unadulterated beauty of the voice is what we want to hear when we hear the negro spiritual thinker here fb
American Experience
Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory
Raw Footage
Interview with Horace Clarence Boyer, Musicologist
Contributing Organization
WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/15-833mw2995c).
Episode Description
Horace Boyer Interview about a group of young ex- slaves in Nashville, Tennessee, who set out on a mission to save their bankrupt school by giving concerts. Traveling first through cities in the North, then on to venues across Europe, the Jubilee Singers introduced audiences to the power of spirituals, the religious anthems of slavery. Driven to physical collapse and even death, the singers proved more successful - and more inspirational - than anyone could have imagined.
Race and Ethnicity
American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, lynching, Mississippi
(c) 2000-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Release Agent: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: barcode7500_Boyer_02_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 864x486.mp4 (unknown)
Duration: 0:29:39
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “American Experience; Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory; Interview with Horace Clarence Boyer, Musicologist,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 27, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory; Interview with Horace Clarence Boyer, Musicologist.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 27, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory; Interview with Horace Clarence Boyer, Musicologist. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from