Cover for GRAHAM: Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry. Click for larger image

Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

Showbiz shaping sacred song’s soaring success

Spirituals performed by jubilee troupes became a sensation in post–Civil War America. First brought to the stage by choral ensembles like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, spirituals anchored a wide range of late nineteenth-century entertainments, including minstrelsy, variety, and plays by both black and white companies.

In the first book-length treatment of postbellum spirituals in theatrical entertainments, Sandra Jean Graham mines a trove of resources to chart the spiritual’s journey from the private lives of slaves to the concert stage. Graham navigates the conflicting agendas of those who, in adapting spirituals for their own ends, sold conceptions of racial identity to their patrons. In so doing they laid the foundation for a black entertainment industry whose artistic, financial, and cultural practices extended into the twentieth century.

A companion website contains jubilee troupe personnel, recordings, and profiles of 85 jubilee groups. Please go to: www.press.uillinois.edu/books/graham/spirituals/

"Sandra Graham breaks new ground in her nuanced examination of the white-controlled spiritual or jubilee industry, and of claims for musical and cultural authenticity by black college and independent jubilee groups, as well as white and black performers of blackface minstrelsy, American folk music, and European classical traditions."--Portia K. Maultsby, coeditor of Issues in African American Music: Power, Gender, Race, Representation and African American Music: An Introduction, second edition

"A detailed, cogent, and fascinating history of the popularization of Negro spirituals [that is] thoroughly documented and covers a truly vast range of information. One of the especially distinctive features of Graham's approach is its careful consideration of musical elements and how they figure in defining objects under study." --Thomas L. Riis, author of Frank Loesser

Publication of this book is supported by the AMS 75 PAYS Endowment of the American Musicological Society, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and by the Babson Faculty Research Fund.


Sandra Jean Graham is an associate professor of music at Babson College.

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