Location: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Title of Song: Dixie’s Land
Collection/Call Number/Copies: bsvg200749
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: bsvg200749
A small band of men play music behind a dancing couple. Their uniform attire of long coats and striped pants is punctured by one man who wears an cap crowned with an object reminiscent of a clock. They play the triangle, an accordion, cymbals the banjo and flute. Deviating from the grandeur of the scene, suggested by the panels of the wall in the background and the chandelier, the female partner of the couple has one bare arm while the other is covered by a long sleeve.
The lack of details and dark nature of the render that makes faces pictured anonymous detracts from any possibility of perceived individuality. Additionally, there is a symmetry in both groups rendered with six musicians in the back and a pair dancing in the foreground. Finally, both the dancers and musicians face an unidentified and unvisualized third party. Together, these elements suggest that this image constitutes a type of performance. In this way, the uniform attire of the band members might be understood as costumes. Similarly, they seem to stand on an elevated platform or stage. This image, thus recalls the shared culture of performance amongst blacks and whites, which took place both inside theater houses and in front of commercial store fronts.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1866
Fisk University opened in Nashville in 1866 as the first American university to offer a liberal arts education to “young men and women irrespective of color.” Five years later the school was in dire financial straits. George L. White, Fisk treasurer and music professor then, created a nine-member choral ensemble of students and took it on tour to earn money for the University. The group left campus on October 6, 1871. Jubilee Day is celebrated annually on October 6 to commemorate this historic day.
They broke racial barriers in the US and abroad in the late 19th century. In 1870, the group performed a concert of spirituals in New York City to raise for their home institution in Nashville. The singers introduced ‘slave songs’ to the world in 1871 and were instrumental in preserving the unique tradition known today as Negro spirituals. During their long and distinguished history, they entertained Kings and Queens in Europe while simultaneously raising money for their university.
In 1999, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were featured in a PBS award-winning television documentary series, produced by WGBH/Boston. In July 2007, the Fisk Jubilee Singers went visited Ghana at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy. There the ensemble joined in the celebration of the nation’s Golden Jubilee, the 50th independence anniversary. In 2008, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were selected as a recipient of the 2008 National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artists and patrons of the arts. The award was presented by President George W. Bush during a ceremony at the White House.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers continue the tradition of singing the Negro spiritual around the world. This allows them to share this rich culture globally while preserving this unique music.