Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fisk Jubilee Singers: First Trip to London

In May of 1872, the Fisk Jubilee Singers set sail for England, after suitable groundwork had been laid by an advance party.

On their second engagement, they sang a private performance of three songs for Queen Victoria: "Steal Away," The Lord's Prayer," and "Go Down, Moses."  Later, they would perform "The Lord's Prayer" at a luncheon attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future Edward VII) who requested "No More Auction Block For Me." Their other engagements included members of the nobility, especially abolitionists and those who worked with the poor.

They had fewer choices of venue in England due to the differences in religious worship practices there, but at one event they sang to a congregation of over 5,000 people.

One of the most frequently requested songs in England was "John Brown's Body."  This used new words added to the melody of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  John Brown was an abolitionist who believed in violent resistance against slavery rather than the peaceful means advocated by other abolitionists.  He was executed after organizing a raid on a federal armory with the intention to seize munitions to give to slaves for slave uprisings.  The song, "John Brown's Body," was sung by Union soldiers, and his execution was seen as an act of sacrifice on behalf of the slaves.  Stanza 3 begins with "John Brown died that the slave might be free," and Stanza 4 refers to the Jubilee.  For slaves and abolitionists alike, this song represented sacrifice and victory.

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