February is Black History Month. When I think of honoring Black Americans, I think of the wonderful and unique music they brought to our culture: jazz and spirituals come to mind. This makes me think of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Fisk University was founded in Nashville to educate Black Americans following the Civil War. It struggled to survive and was in dire need of financial help. To raise monies to save their school in 1871, a small group of singers embarked on a concert tour. They had limited success until they opted to sing spirituals in their concerts. (Spirituals had not been shared publicly prior to this time.) Ella Sheppard, one of the original members of the group stated, “The music was sacred to our parents, who used them in their religious worship and shouted over them”. After they included those songs in their concerts, the singers raised substantial monies for their cause. Those singers preserved a unique American musical tradition known today as Negro spirituals. They broke racial barriers in the US and abroad in the late 19th century. There is a wonderful documentary on the Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory, as part of PBS’ American Experience. I highly recommend it.
I greatly admire the music of Black Americans. In order to give them the honored place they deserve in our diverse American history, I would like to see the study of Black Americans as equal to those of White Americans on an ongoing basis. One month just isn’t enough.
Charlyn’s professional training has followed two paths: as a professional oboist and as a music teacher and conductor. As Music Director at First Parish, she joins these two paths of her musical life, conducting the choir, coordinating guest musicians, and performing on oboe.