Jubilees, Gospel, and Spirituals
According to John W. Finson, “The music that first presented itself as a model for ‘realistic’ minstrel songs came from the black religious genre known as the ‘spiritual[.]’” The Jubilee, a celebration or spiritual song, refers to “Jubilo,” or the Biblical practice of setting slaves free every fifty years. Emancipation in the U.S. harkened back to this practice. After the Civil War, minstrel music began to mimic black singing and melodies more closely. In 1871, the Fisk (University) Jubilee Singers emerged from academia with an all-black chorus and more authentically black musical arrangements. In the 1880s, Sam Lucas of the Original Georgia Minstrels wrote authentic-sounding jubilees of his own. Despite this slow drift toward authentic black music, white composers still depicted black religious practices as outlandish and often laced their spirituals with mean-spirited condescension and racist politics. Indeed some songs and sheet music imagery treated black spirituality as a source of corruption instead of virtue. As vaudeville gained in popularity in the 1890s, large minstrel groups downsized or disbanded, preventing them from performing large choral pieces such as jubilees. The genre never recovered.