Slave Spirituals and the Jubilee Singers

Overview

Many slave spirituals—songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” and “Go Down, Moses”—have become interwoven into the fabric of American culture. For centuries these deeply moving songs were sung by slaves as they worked in the fields. In 1871, six years after the end of slavery, a group from Fisk University known as the Jubilee Singers toured the United States and abroad, raising money for their bankrupt school and, more important, bringing slave spirituals to the attention of a ...

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Overview

Many slave spirituals—songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” and “Go Down, Moses”—have become interwoven into the fabric of American culture. For centuries these deeply moving songs were sung by slaves as they worked in the fields. In 1871, six years after the end of slavery, a group from Fisk University known as the Jubilee Singers toured the United States and abroad, raising money for their bankrupt school and, more important, bringing slave spirituals to the attention of a wide audience. This engrossing account, illustrated with archival prints and photographs and appended with the words and music to seven songs, tells the inspiring story of the Jubilee Singers and reveals spirituals to be an invaluable and unique history of American slavery.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[T]he glimpses of slave life and the fine legacy of the music are interesting and welcome bits of history." Horn Book

null Children's Books: 100 Titles NYPL

The first half of this intriguing book surveys the music of African American slaves, while the latter focuses on the Jubilee Singers. . . . Cooper tells an interesting story, illustrated with well-chosen black-and-white reproductions of period photos, engravings, posters, prints, and paintings.
Booklist, ALA

This attractive, well-illustrated book tells the story of the famous Jubilee Singers, who popularized and helped preserve slave spirituals following the Civil War.
VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

Children's Literature
Michael L. Cooper has made something of a career of unearthing and casting lucid light upon forgotten pieces of African-American and minority-American history for young people. His biography of slave pilot Robert Smalls was a small gem—a microcosmic view of antebellum issues. Now he returns to the same territory to illumine the lifestyle of "bondsmen" before the Civil War—and the expansion of this lifestyle by post-Civil War freedmen. Cooper never writes down to his audience. His prose is crisp and clean;his stories interesting and logical;his research flawless. So, of course, his discussion of Fisk University's famous Jubilee Singers really begins with an analysis of African-American music fixed in dance, shouts and religion. It's a journey well worth taking. 2001, Clarion, $16.00. Ages 10 up. Reviewer:Kathleen Karr
VOYA
This attractive, well-illustrated book tells the story of the famous Jubilee Singers, who popularized and helped preserve slave spirituals following the Civil War. Growing from African origins, spirituals and work songs were an important part of slave life in the antebellum South. Sometimes accompanied with dancing, music was used to set work rhythm, express personal feelings, communicate with other slaves, and for worship. After drums were used to coordinate a 1739 slave rebellion, they were outlawed, but banjos and fiddles were common. The voice was the primary instrument. Slave owners were suspicious of silent slaves, and a good musician could better his lot by providing entertainment for his master. Slaves, who disliked the reprimands in white sermons, held their own lively, song-filled praise meetings at night. In 1871, the Fisk School in Nashville, one of many postwar schools for emancipated slaves, was impoverished and threatened with closure. Music director George White and twelve students were authorized to tour the northern states to raise money for the school. When they sang in the New York church of Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous minister in the country, the Jubilee Singers' fortunes were made. Before their relationship ended in 1875, they had performed before Queen Victoria and in many foreign countries, raising enough money to buy additional land and to build a new Fisk campus. A final chapter traces the lives of some Jubilee singers after the group was dissolved. Simple vocabulary and factual focus make this book suitable for upper elementary, middle, and high school readers interested in African American history. Some hand-selling might be required, but the excellentphotos and sparse text will attract readers at all levels. Index. Illus. Photos. Source Notes. Further Reading. Appendix. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Clarion, 86p, $16. Ages 11 to 18. Reviewer: Laura Woodruff SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up-In 1862, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of the first regiment of newly freed slaves to join the Union Army, became fascinated by the songs his men sang. He wrote down the words to these spirituals as well as the former slaves' explanations of the origins. Sprinkled with quotations from the material Higginson collected, which is written in a white man's interpretation of slave speech patterns and includes expressions considered offensive by modern standards, the first half of this book traces the development of spirituals from African musical traditions and discusses the place of religion in the lives of the slaves. The second half focuses on Fisk University's Jubilee Singers. Although they began by performing popular and classical pieces, they soon began to sing nothing but the well-received spirituals that brought them fame, assured Fisk University's financial future, and preserved such songs as "Steal Away," "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" for future generations. Illustrated with many archival prints and photographs, the book includes extensive annotated source notes and the words and music to seven of the spirituals popularized by the Jubilee Singers. Readers of Deborah Hopkinson's A Band of Angels (Atheneum, 1999), the picture-book story of Jubilee Singer Ella Sheppard, will be especially interested in this longer nonfiction account of the choir and its importance in African-American history.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395978290
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/27/2001
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 96
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 1070L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael L. Cooper has written books on various aspects of American history for young adults, including a companion book, Fighting for Honor: Japanese Americans and World War II, which was named a 2002 Best Book for Young Adults.

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