Fisk University in Nashville was in dire straits at the turn of the 1870s. The buildings that the school had used since opening in 1866 were in need of major repair, teachers were severly underpaid and the food supply for students was dwindling. In an attempt to raise necessary funds, a group of student singers, under the direction of treasurer and music instructor George L. White, came together to perform during a benefit concert tour of the Midwest. Although they started the tour on October 8, 1871 with only $1 of institution money, they returned seven months later with $20,000 -- enough to pay the school's debts and purchase Fort Gillen, the site of the current university. Traveling to England in April 1873, the group raised more than $50,000 in the little more than a year they toured Great Britain. In the first seven years that they were together, the Fisk Jubilee Singers raised more than $150,000 for the university. More than a century later, the group continued bringing their soulful singing to enthusiastic audiences around the globe. Although their initial repertoire featured what they called "white man's music" and a few "slave songs", the Fisk Jubilee Singers increasingly focused on Afro-American spirituals. According to member Esther Jones, "The group has tried to maintain a spirituality and a closeness to God." The Fisk Jubilee Singers have been guided by a series of highly-talented directors. In 1956, the group returned to Europe, under the direction of John W. Work III, performing fifty-four concerts in nine countries. Matthew W. Kennedy served three stints as director -- 1972 to 1973, 1975 to 1983 and 1985 to 1986. ~ Craig Harris, RoviPortions of Content Provided by Rovi Corporation.
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