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When the Jubilee Singers brought slave spirituals to Edwardian Alnwick

studio portrait showing three Edwardian people - tow African American women and an African American man

The Fisk Jubilee singers. Courtesy Bailiffgate Museum.

An old theatre flyer in the collection of Bailiffgate Museum opens a window on US Black history

This photograph and poster shows the ‘Fisk Jubilee Singers Trio’, who played at the Alnwick Corn Exchange Theatre in 1906.

Recently uncovered in the Bailiffgate Museum collection by Head of Collections volunteer, Mick Grant, who was developing online collection stories about local theatre, the touring trio represented the larger a cappella ensemble of students at Fisk University, which was founded in 1866 to educate freed slaves following the Civil War.

The Choir was originally formed in 1871 to raise much needed funds for the college by touring and singing traditional spirituals in the United States.

And as this flyer shows, they also toured Europe to spread their message of hope, bringing the beauty and power of Slave spirituals, such as Swing Low Sweet Chariot, to a wider audience.

playbill flyer for two performances in Alnwick for the Jubilee singers

Courtesy Bailiffgate Museum

The singers in the photo are Eugene M McAdoo (Orpheus McAdoo’s younger brother), Miss Laura Carr and Miss Euna M Mocara.

“The flyer was brought in by a chap who must have been in his eighties and I’m guessing his parents or grandparents may have been to the concert and they kept it,” says Grant.

“I think the story of the Jubilee Singers is a very interesting one and it struck me how for a lot of people in Alnwick it might have been the first time they had even seen a Black person. Even today Alnwick is a very mono-ethnic town.

“Alnwick is also very strongly religious, and I think the Gospel singing would have been very well received here – there was always a strong Anglican and Catholic tradition and there were several non-conformist chapels in what is really a small town, so it’s very interesting that they came here.”

Perhaps reflecting some of the biases of the time, the flyer assures the people of Alnwick that the concert “will be found clean and wholesome in every respect and one to which any man would delight to take his family and is endorsed by the clergy and Christian public throughout the world.”

The Fisk Jubilee Singers still perform today and the college they helped promote and save through their singing, Fisk University, is the oldest institution of higher learning in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jean Humphrys, Baillifgate Chair of Trustees adds, “this is a wonderful photo of the Trio. What started with a celebration of Alnwick theatrical heritage led us to research the story behind this photograph, opening a window on US Black history and the incredible achievements of the Fisk University and its students, touring the world to raise funds.

“History’s ability to give us a greater understanding of the world we inhabit is so important.”

Read more about theatre in Alnwick on the Bailiffgate Museum Collections website bailiffgatecollections.co.uk/collections/theatre-in-alnwick/

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Bailiffgate Museum and Gallery

Alnwick, Northumberland

Visit Bailiffgate first to uncover the rich history of Alnwick and North Northumberland. Explore the past through special exhibitions and unique activities for the whole family. Interactives for children of all ages and plenty of information for the serious historian.

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