Jubilee Celebrations

The celebrations for the Queen’s Jubilee may not seem to have much relevance to an American historian, but actually the very word “jubilee” strikes a chord particularly for those who study African American History.  The Civil War song, “Marching Through Georgia” celebrating General Sherman’s march from Atlanta to Savannah in 1864, has in its chorus the lines:

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!

Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free!

For black slaves jubilee also had a biblical reference – Leviticus refers to the periodic “year of Jubilee” celebrated by freeing those in bondage as an act of atonement.  Thus it is no surprise to discover a black choir called the Fisk Jubilee Singers formed in 1871 at the university in Tennessee of the same name who made famous black spirituals such as “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”. The Fisk singers toured Britain and the rest of Europe on several occasions and performed before Queen Victoria in April 1873.  The Fisk Jubilee Singers helped to spread the influence of black folk song across the Atlantic, a flow of inspiration celebrated in the forthcoming collection Transatlantic Roots Music: Folk, Blues, and National Identities edited by Jill Terry (Worcester) and Gloucestershire’s own Neil Wynn.  So the Jubilee will be celebrated in more ways than one!

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