Friday, February 11, 2011

Fisk Jubilee Singers: Climbing the Hills of Zion

After touring Ohio, the group crossed into the hilly terrain of Pennsylvania en route to the East Coast.  They continued singing at church services, praise meetings, and concerts, raising money to reach New York City.

Their praise meeting in Elmira, New York, was held at the church presided over by the Rev. T.K. Beecher, brother of famous abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher and novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe.  He sent word ahead to his brother, who would be one of their greatest supporters.

The group spent six weeks in New York, supported in their efforts by Henry Ward Beecher.  He helped them secure venues and wrote glowingly of their artistry in advance of their trip to Boston:  "They will charm any audience, sure; they make their mark by giving the 'spirituals' and plantation hymns as only they can sing them who know how to keep time to a master's whip.  Our people have been delighted."

"Climbing the Hills of Zion" might have taken on significance for the singers as they viewed the Adirondack Mountains on their way to New York City and Brooklyn. 

Jennie Jackson, the soloist for this song, was free-born due to her grandfather's owner (General Andrew Jackson) setting him free in his will, and her mother likewise benefitting from the President Jackson's wife's will.  Jennie helped her family by working as a laundress and nurse during the mornings, and her schooling was limited to a few hours per day at a freedmen's school.  Her years at Fisk were punctuated by periods when she had tro work to help her family and save for her tuition.  Jennie sang a solo at the group's first concert and remained with them for many years.

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