United in Marin Celebrates Spirituals

Top: The 1873 painting of The Jubilee Singers by Edmund Havel, Queen Victoria court painter. Men from left: Benjamin Holmes, Isaac Dickerson, Thomas Rutling, Edmund Walkins. Women from left: Mabel Lewis, Minnie Tate, Ella Sheppard, Jennie Jackson, Julia Jackson, Maggie Porter, Georgia Gordon. (From www. civilwarshades.org/jubilee-singers-at-court/); Middle: United in Jubilation Mass Choir with Deborah Thomson directing (center); Bottom from left: Honami Moriguchi and Arisa Sakaguchi are
students from Osaka, Japan studying English at the Dominican
University in San Rafael. They are staying at the home of Denise Ruelas, one of the choir members (center). Noah Griffin singing “Where You There.”

By Godfrey Lee
The United in Marin Church celebrated the spirituals at a United in Jubilation Concert on Friday February 8. The concert, held at the Hamilton Center in Novato, was sold out and had to turn people away. Among the featured songs were: “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “Rise, Shine, For Thy Light is A-Comin,” “Keep Your Lamps,” “Eziekel Saw the Wheel and “Roll Jordon Roll.”

Deborah Thomson directed the 68-member United in Jubilation Mass Choir. Other performers included Noah Griffin, Rev. Ann Jefferson, Crook-T, Pablo Ballora, Citrina Niles and Beverly Freeman. Debbie Sweeny, Laurie Steese and Madeline Crawford danced as the United in Jubilation Dancers to “Wade In The Water.”

Noah Griffin gave a tribute to the Fisk Jubilee Singers from Fisk University, a historical Black University founded in Nashville Tennessee in 1866. George L. White, Fisk’s treasurer and music professor, created the nine-member choral ensemble of students and accompanied them on tour in 1871 to raise money for the school. In the original group, all but two of the singers were slaves.

As the singers traveled and performed in small towns, they eventually decided not to perform in the “minstrel” style of their day but to sing plantation songs, the songs that they knew.
The singers earned $50 in an early concert in Cincinnati, which they donated to victims of the 1871 fire in Chicago.

White, in a gesture of hope and encouragement, named them “The Jubilee Singers,” a Biblical reference to the year of Jubilee in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 25. In 1872, the group sang at the World Peace Festival in Boston, and at the White House to President Ulysses S. Grant.

In 1873, the group grew to 11 members and toured Europe for the first time. Queen Victoria of England was very impressed with the singer, and gave them money
that was used to construct Jubilee Hall, the university’s first permanent building and one of the oldest structures on campus.