German Concert Review of the Fisk Jubilee Singers (1878)

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were… SUMMARIZE. Introduce Loudin and what he was trying to accomplish and what we can get from this article.


European Correspondence

Notwithstanding our success before the royal household, we had great fears as to the result on the public ear and mind. That by no means second to be feared was the press, each one of the leading ones a which employs a critic educated to the highest degree in music, and some of them graduates from the highest schools of the art in the world. I shall not speak of our success at our public concerts, the first of which given in the “Singing Academy” of Berlin on the 7th inst., further than modesty will permit of, but send you an extract from the leading Berlin paper and written by a gentleman whose word is regarded as authority throughout Germany . There are many other equally complimentary and even more so, but I select this one on account of the very high position of its writer as authority. Evidently the writer has been in America during “our little unpleasantness.” ‘Tis from the “Volks Zeitung.”

It begins:
– “Long, long ago I stood outpost in the solitary woods of Arkansas. It was in the winter season, but in those regions nature does not perish in December, it merely dreams. And as in a dream there was lying the almost endless solitary forest, the heaven-aspiring tree tops, which I could behold form the hill on which I stood, on the boundary of the setting sun sank down on it. Around me stood the mighty oak trees with their long, fluttering beards of moss, the proud sycamore and the dark serious cypress. And the evening wind was rushing through the branches and produced a roaring which sounded like a lullaby hummed easily and dying away as in a whisper. All at once it seemed to me as if the wind got words and a distinct melody. But no, that was no more the wind nor the spirit of the woods! The sound came nearer to me and I distinctly distinguished a human voice, which strongly harmonized with the roaring wind and which entirely corresponded with the disposition the nature, “Rock me to sleep, mother,” it sounded towards me, and then sounded a long, drawn, woeful “All day, all day.” The singer who gave such a musical impression, that her mother might rock her to sleep, was soon visible on the darkened path, which led through the woods. It was a ragged negro child about ten years old. With bare feet she was striding over the dry branches and fawning color foliage. All her clothing consisted of a white, torn linen gown fastened around her hips. One thing, however, proved to me that the little [ ] was the real daughter of Eve, because she had a kind of crown wound of twigs of the evergreen wholly fastened by [ ] to her exuberantly growing [ ]. I [ ] singer, who at first timid [ ] still near the thicket; but here [ ] she became more confident and slowly approaching us. To many questions she answered [ ] but ‘I do not know it.’ The only thing she knew was that her name was Maggie. The day of her birth she would not tell. I then asked, “where is your mother?” “Sold,” was her answer. “Your father?” “Sold.” “Your sister?” “Sold.” “Your brother?” “Sold.” “Who provides for you, Maggie?” The little girl was confused, and after having reflected for some time, she said timidly and bashfully, “the driver.” These communications contained the little slave’s whole history of life, in which all the misery and all the horrible calamity of her race was reflected. The little girl went on her way, and soon I heard her melancholic “Rock me to sleep mother, all day, all day.” Oh, now I comprehend that she was longing backwards for the time when her mother was still rocking her to sleep. Now I knew also why her simple song touched me so deeply. A strange natural feeling was to be heard from the long extended gentle expiring sound. When I asked me who may have awakened this feeling in this timid, half wild, child, there stood at once before the fatal word, sold!” The misery of her slave-cursed life of the little girl was seeking for a poetic utterance and that she found.” “In this and no other view the undertaking of the Jubilee Singers must be regarded, who were yesterday greeted by so very friendly and brilliant an audience at the Singing Academy.”* * *

“In a concert it is entirely indifferent to what degree of accomplishment the musical technics have risen. The main point is the effect. If any execution of art is able to produce in our soul a poetic disposition, it has done its duty. The Prince-Royal however, the point when he said,- ‘That takes by storm, that catches hold of one’s feelings!’ The songs of these colored ones move in fact our very soul and raise us into a poetical sphere. Most of them cause an elegiac disposition, for from the songs there is sounding the scream of the persecuted and enslaved ones, and sometimes it is a wild shriek, corresponding to the hot blood of the negro race. It is the cry for delivery of deep calamity, which lowly dies away in the appeal to the Lord and the consolation of the next life. The song “Steal away to Jesus” was song originally, we are told, by slaves who sought refuge in the solitary woods for praying to the Lord. The song begins like a low secret prayer, swells to a hot anxious imploration till the deep bass tones, powerfully raising like mighty columns, on which an invisible church is being erected.” A wonderful song of consolation is that funeral hymn of the slaves, which was sung at the grave. The hallelujah which swells on and dies away like the sounds of an Aeolian harp has an entirely celestial brilliancy. It appears as if it had wings to carry the soul of the decreased one to distant better worlds. Also the naivete of the black race is expressed very drolly in the songs. As to the singing, these colored singers make an especial effect by their splendid ensemble. The management of the pianissimo passages is quite wonderful. It commences like a distant singing and dies away like a breath of wind. Besides, all the voices unite to one tone, which glitters in a beautiful splendor. An artificial work of the most charming character the singers executed by Seward’s song of “The Bells.” In this fine composition the ringing of bells is excellently imitated, and the singers who held the closed so wonderfully let them swell and die away so gradually that the effect was quite overpowering. We also had several solos. So the pitch-black Miss Jackson sang “The old folks at home” with a fine voice, warm feeling, and a great taste. Of brilliant execution was the terzetto “O restless sea,” between Miss Porter, Mr. Ruoling and Mr. Loudin, where the clear soprano voice of Miss Porter streamed out over the powerful voices of the men like sunlight over the raging sea. The song of the bass singer had a ravishing effect upon the audience. This mulatto has a deep bass, which sounds and touches us powerful as tubor-tones and yet able to express the most tender feeling. Imagine a lullaby executed by a basso-profound, and yet this singer enraptured the audience to the highest applause and was encored. He is master of a very grand voice of great compass (over two octaves) the enormous power, the wonderful subtle soft and sure falsetto and the clear intonation are all perfect; and if Mr. Loudin understands how to sing European music, which we have no reason to doubt, he would be one of the finest singers in Europe.” “As the children of Israel in the bondage of Egypt, as the Christian martyrs, under the persecution of Rome poured forth their misery in song, so the enslaved Negro face begot the hymns of faith and trust which were heard last night “in a golden sitting.” Out of the woes of the tormented soul of the people these songs sprang up; they are passing flowers of the blood of the martyrs, and we advise our readers not to let escape this peculiar enjoyment of art.”-

R. E. I have quoted and written thus at length with a hope that it may encourage and inspire our people to greater diligence seeing as they will where it is possible to stand, if the talents God has given us are employed. What we have done has been with the songs the ment of the work, saying, “I am he that productions of the negro mind and with negro talent. I ought again to apologize for repeating what is said of me as an individual, and only consent to do so with the hope that others may be encouraged by my so doing. Again you see I have violated your injunction to write “short letters,” but found myself unable to do so for want of time.


Source: F. J. Loudin, “European Correspondence,” The Christian Recorder (3 January 1878).