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A Night of Joy and Jubilation at the Ryman with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Friends

by Rich and Laura Lynch

It was billed as Jubilation! a celebration of a musical relationship that has last for decades. Interestingly, in the same year that the Ryman Auditorium was opened the Fisk Jubilee Singers first performed at this sacred space back in 1892. 130 years later, both institutions continue to enjoy a thriving history and rapport. On June 28, 2022 the Fisk Jubilee Singers graced the stage of the Mother Church in Nashville, Tennessee to honor this landmark occasion.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers perform at Ryman Auditorium for "Jubilation! An Enduring Musical Union"
(Photo by Erika Goldring / Courtesy of Marushka Media)

The Fisk Jubilee Singers are singers and scholars from Fisk University in Nashville who perform locally and globally. The original group introduced slave songs to the world in 1871 and they were instrumental in preserving a unique American tradition known today as Negro spirituals which shaped the sounds of music that would follow. At their inception the vocalists were part of a fund raising effort for the then struggling college. They gained widespread popularity that still endures today - even helping give Music City its name after an early presentation for Queen Victoria. The group has won countless awards and they have performed at some of the most prestigious halls in the world.

Of course, the composition of the Fisk Jubilee Singers has changed over the years as new students come and go. On Tuesday, the current ensemble joined Allison Russell in celebrating the Ryman's 130th anniversary. The acoustics at the auditorium were ideal for the music of the Fisk Jubilee Singers who performed during the first half of the program and later supported Ms. Russell. They did not need any instrumentation allowing their alto, bass, soprano and tenor voices to create a broad range of emotions and sound.

Local businessman Charles Sueing was the MC on Tuesday night. He gave a broad over view of the Fisk Jubilee Singers' history before the well-dressed group took the stage. Multi-part male and female voices blended beautifully as they handled the soft moments and moving swells that this gospel music requires. Call and response was another effective technique that the singers employed. High points included "Ain' A That Good News", "Great Day" and perhaps the most familiar piece "Old Time Religion". They concluded with an inspiring version of "Walk Together Children".

Next up was O.N.E The Duo a Nashville-based twosome comprised of music royalty. Tekitha is known for her work as the female voice of the Wu-Tang Clan and Prana Supreme Diggs is her daughter with RZA, Wu-Tang's founder, producer, and de-facto leader. Their innovative sound melded Americana, country, Hip-Hop, Motown and rock. Their name O.N.E The Duo stands for observant, noetic, and effervescent. At the Ryman, the ladies supported by a full band presented an up-beat set of songs that did have elements of country. They opened with the beguiling "Guilty" followed by a fluid "River Of Sins" and later an innovative "Stuck in the Middle" struck a chord with the Ryman crowd and likely O.N.E The Duo some new fans!

Prana Supreme and Tekitha (O.N.E. The Duo), Allison Russell and the Fisk Jubilee Singers
(Photo by Erika Goldring / Courtesy of Marushka Media)

Lastly, Allison Russell with her talented team took the stage during the second half of Jubilation! and was joined by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Allison is an activist, multi-instrumentalist, poet and singer. Ms. Russell has had her far share of sorrows yet though her music she affirms that she is a survivor. Her record Outside Child has received plenty of praise including a number of Americana Award nominations and a Juno Award for Contemporary Roots Album of the year. Allison also recently announced a book deal with Flatiron/MacMillian for her debut novel, a memoir based on her life and the material of Outside Child.

Allison presented music from the aforementioned album including a moving tribute to one of her ancestors - "Quasheba" with the Fisk Jubilee Singers adding even more power to the piece. In addition she played banjo and clarinet on a number of songs providing punch to an already potent stage presence - both visually and vocally. Her lyrics explored hard topics yet shined rays of hope in arrangements that were catchy and compelling all backed by a first rate band. She asked O.N.E The Duo to join them as they closed out their set on a high note before the Fisk Jubilee Singers sang their school song "The Gold and Blue" to conclude a Jubilant night of music at the legendary Ryman Auditorium.

Proceeds from the event will benefit Fisk Jubilee Singers Endowed Scholarship Fund and Tuesday's celebration was followed by an unveiling ceremony of a limited-edition book, Heritage & Honor: 150 Year Story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers at Fisk University on Wednesday.

The Ryman was originally built for people to experience something transformative together in the format of church revivals and later it became the home stage of the Grand Ole Opry thus earning it the title of the Mother Church of Country Music. However, all genres are welcome here and some groups such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers have a long history with the venue so come visit and experience it for yourself either through a backstage tour or concert.

Related Links: For more information on the FISK JUBILEE SINGERS and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Fisk Jubilee Singers | O.N.E The Duo | Allison Russell | Ryman Auditorium


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