The ‘Sorrow Songs’ and The Fisk Jubilee Singers

Frist organized in 1871 at Fisk University, an historically black university in Nashville, TN, the Fisk Jubilee Singers helped popularize what are traditonally called the “Negro Spirituals.” They toured along the Underground Railroad and traveled overseas to play in Europe.

As you listen to the songs, pay attention to how they are being performed.

Questions to consider: Do you think performing what Du Bois would call “Sorrow Songs” for an audience changes the import, or meaning, of the Spirituals? If so, how? If not, why not?

Another way of putting it: Given that these songs are situated in a specific historical, psychological, and social location of racialized suffering, does their performance in places and for audiences removed from the black, particularly African-American, struggle for survival alter their meaning? (In this, consider how Du Bois might respond, given how he frames Souls.)

How about in terms of white cultural appropriation? What happens to their meaning, if anything, in light of their performance by white singers?

 

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