The CSO Spiritual Choir is digging deep in the spiritual archives for a tribute show honoring the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Founded in 1871, the singers were a group of students from Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tenn., that opened at the end of the Civil War to educate newly freed slaves. They are credited with popularizing the African-American spiritual throughout the United States and the rest of the world with their touring shows.
"If you want to know the evolution of African-American influences on American music, this concert will be an educational and artistic experience," says Lee Pringle, president and founder of the CSO Spiritual Choir.
The African-American spiritual was born out of the experiences of slaves transported from Africa to America, who turned to song as a form of expression during troubling times. The spiritual laid the groundwork for much of the music we hear today, influencing genres from R&B to rock 'n' roll. The raw emotions of religious devotion and a yearning for freedom strike a chord in a diverse range of audiences.
"Many people can connect with the fact that the African-American spiritual derived from the oppressive way people were treated," Pringle says.
Directed by Nathan L. Nelson, the 35-member Spiritual Choir will sing traditional African-American spirituals whose Southern notes are as indigenous to the Charleston area as traditional sweetgrass baskets.
CSO Spiritual's performance will also feature guest appearances by Roberta Laws and Daniel Washington. Laws is an internationally renowned soprano, best known for her portrayal of Bess in local productions of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. She has sung for audiences in opera houses around the world and now brings her talent to Charleston. Daniel Washington, a Summerville native and bass-baritone, teaches voice performance at the University of Michigan and will also be joining the ensemble as they perform pieces by Jester Hairston and John Work III.
Piccolo Spoleto. CSO Spiritual Ensemble Presents Circa 1871: An Ode to the Fisk Jubilee. $21, $11/students. June 4 at 5 p.m. Trinity United Methodist Church, 273 Meeting St. (866) 811-4111