Fisk Jubilee Singers Celebrate Harry T. Burleigh And Ella Sheppard At Carnegie Hall

By Nicole Kuchta

The Harry T. Burleigh Society and the Fisk Jubilee Singers will celebrate the leaders of the concert spiritual tradition during a Carnegie Hall concert on March 2, 2019. A conference exploring the intersection of power, race, and virtuosity in America will follow on March 3.

The program will feature composers/singers Ella Sheppard and Harry T. Burleigh, “whose compositions – crossing racial, religious, and class lines – served to bridge the sound and identity of America,” according to the press release.

The concert will be held in Zankel Hall, and will “trace the development of African American art song from choral arrangements of Negro spirituals to pieces for solo voice and piano.” Burleigh’s “My Lord, What A Morning” and Sheppard’s “Steal Away” are among the program’s highlights.

The March 2 performance, directed by Paul Kwami, will feature soprano Marti Slaten and the Fisk Jubliee chorus. The group will perform in Victorian dress, an homage to the original eleven Fisk Jubilee Singers who became the first-ever American choir to tour Europe. The group was immortalized in an 1873 Havel portrait commissioned by Queen Victoria.

On March 3, “More Than The Promise of The American Myth: Rethinking Burleigh and Sheppard in The Second Gilded Age” will feature as its keynote speaker Dr. Daphne Brooks, Yale professor and “international authority on African American expressive culture on the stage.” Presenting scholars/artists Lucy Caplan, Lynne Foote, Dr. Crystal deGregory, Dr. Paul T. Kwami, Kenneth Overton, Dr. Jean Snyder, and Dr. Louise Toppin will lead sessions on “The Concept of the Concert Spiritual and Black Art Music,” “Institutionalizing Concert Spirituals,” and “Family Legacies: The Sheppards, Burleighs, and their Contemporaries.”