*The Fisk Jubilee Singers, founded at the HBCU 150 years ago and instrumental in preserving America’s treasured Negro spirituals, has added another accolade to its rich history – a Grammy Award.
At Sunday’s pre-telecast “Premiere Ceremony,” the vocal group’s “Celebrating Fisk! (The 150th Anniversary Album)” was named Best Roots Gospel Album, earning them their first-ever Grammy award.
“Hallelujah,” said director Dr. Paul Kwami in his acceptance speech who has served as the group’s musical director since 1994.
When Fisk University treasurer George Leonard White assembled the group in 1871 and took them on the road to raise money for the financially-strapped school, the group introduced international audiences to “slave songs” or “negro spirituals.” Among the songs they helped popularize were “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Steal Away to Jesus.”
In its first four years as a group, the singers toured the U.S. and Europe and performed for Queen Victoria, Mark Twain and President Ulysses S. Grant.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers predate the Grammys, which has existed for just 63 of the group’s 150 years. The group even predates the advent of commercial recordings. Their 1909 recording of “Swing Low” is the earliest known recording of the song, and is now in the Library of Congress.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers’ Grammy winning album is a collection of several performances from its concerts at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in recent years, featuring guest artists Ruby Amanfu, Keb’ Mo’, Lee Ann Womack, The Fairfield Four, Rod McGaha, Derek Minor, Shannon Sanders, Rodney Atkins, Jimmy Hall and CeCe Winans.
After receiving the award, Kwami said he wanted to “honor those original” students who founded the group in 1871.
“In a way, it’s surprising, it’s the first time we have won a Grammy,” Kwami said in the virtual press room Sunday night. “Sometimes I think it’s because of the music we’re known for, which is the Negro spiritual. Whatever the case, I’m happy this happened in the year we are celebrating our 150th anniversary. It’s an addition to the celebration.”
Watch “The Making of ‘Celebrating Fisk!'” below, followed by a PBS’ “American Experience” special about the group below: