by Kevin Lamár Peterman
Spirituals, anthems, and soul stirring melodies are amongst the cultural gifts African Americans have given to the world. The unique sound crossed the atlantic and arrived in North America along with an oppressed group of people who despite their pain made the choice to sing in a strange land. These tones of sorrow and joy followed them from plantations to halls of academia. Music is at the heart of the Black College experience. There is nothing more angelic or sacred than the sound of an Historically Black College or University (HBCU) choir. For more than a century the descendants of enslaved Africans have provided the nation with a sense of hope, joy and liberator jubilation through their music. This weeks MSI Line Up highlights four collegiate ensmebles that continue the musical legacy of HBCUs.
1) The Fisk Jubilee Singers—Nashville, Tennessee
The Fisk Jubilee Singes were first assembled at Fisk University in 1871. George L. White, a Fisk University administrator and professor of music, commissioned the ensemble in effort to raise funds for the university, which was in the midst of a financial crisis at the time of the choir’s founding. The choir’s first eighteen-month tour raised nearly $40,000 for the univeristy. This brought the institution international recognition and earned the choir prominence in the music industry. The sound of Fisk becameThe Fisk Jubilee Singers were instrumental in making “Negro Spirituals” a mainstream genre of American music. Their classical style group has performed throughout the United States.
2) The Morehouse College Glee Club—Atlanta, Georgia
The Morehouse College Glee Club was founded in 1911 on the campus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. The all-male vocal ensemble is comprised of freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors who desire to express their musical gifts through song. The choir is known for their riveting performances that bring audience to their feet. The Glee Club has performed at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr., the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter and the 1996 Summer Olympics. The ensemble is currently under the direction of Dr. David Morrow.
3) The Howard Gospel Choir of Howard University—Washington, D.C.
The Howard Gospel Choir is the nation’s oldest collegiate gospel choir of it’s kind. The choir was founded in Washington, DC on the campus of Howard University in 1968. Each year, the choir travels throughout the United States and most recently has made appearances in Denmark, Italy, Montenego, Slovakia and Sweden. The Choir has sang at the Washington National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the White House as the special guest of former presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Notable alumni of the choir include music giants such as Richard Smallwood, Elbertina “Twinkie Clark, Angela Winbush, and Clifton Ross. In 2016, the choir most recent recording album, Glorious God was nominated for two Stellar Awards.
4) The Morgan State University Choir—Baltimore, MD
The Morgan State University Choir is one of the nation’s most prestigious musical ensembles. For decades the choir has mesmerized audiences with a diverse repertoire that includes classical music, gospel music, jazz and R&B. The choir has produced several audio recordings and traveled extensively throughout the United States, the Virgin Islands, the Canary Islands, Canada, Africa, Asia and Europe. Comprised of approximately 120 voices, the Morgan State University Choir is currently under the direction of Dr. Eric Conway.