The Fisk Jubilee Singers: 1886 to 1890
Frederick Loudin, basso, became the charismatic leader of the Fisk Jubilee Singers (FJS) in 1882. Born free in Portage County, OH, Loudin proved his skills as a talented scholar, printer, and singer prior to relocating to Tennessee to serve as a music teacher. Although he was never a student at Fisk University, George White recruited the 34-year-old Loudin to join the original FJS in late 1875. He performed with the original Singers throughout their successful European tours. After the University dissolved the group in 1878, Loudin and White reformed the Singers in 1879. For the next three years, Loudin and White led the FJS during their tour of the United States and Canada. Following White’s resignation in 1882, Loudin created and headed a new incarnation of the Singers. From 1882 to 1884, Loudin’s Singers toured North America. However, by 1884 Loudin realized that a global tour was necessary to generate funds and raise awareness of African American Spirituals.
After two somewhat disappointing years in Britain, Loudin and the Singers set off on the next step of the global tour in the Antipodes. From 1886 to late 1889, the FJS were very successful in their performances throughout Australia and New Zealand. Loudin then led the FJS in their tour of India and Burma from November, 1889 to February, 1890. Over the following two months, Loudin and the other Singers performed in Singapore, China, and Japan while on their return to the United States. In addition to being a talented singer, Loudin was also a dynamic and engaging orator. At the start, during the intermission, and at the end of each concert Loudin delivered stirring speeches to the crowd. His orations presented the audience with information about the history and cultural importance of Spirituals. Although Fisk University was not an official sponsor of the troupe during the world tour, Loudin spoke very fondly of the institution and raised global awareness of Fisk’s mission. Newspaper articles in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, and East Asia reiterated this information delivered by Loudin, which further disseminated throughout the British colonies much information relating to the history of Fisk and the importance of African American music. After returning to the United States in April, 1890, Loudin purchased an ornate house in Ravenna, Ohio. He continued to tour the United States, Canada, Britain, and Ireland with various incarnations of his Jubilee Singers until shortly before his death in 1904.
Orpheus McAdoo, basso, joined Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers prior to the start of the global tour in 1884. Rather than completing the tour by traveling through Asia on the “homeward bound” journey, he resigned from the troupe in 1889 in order to form his own group of singers. Born in 1858 to enslaved parents in North Carolina, McAdoo enrolled at the Hampton Institute (Hampton University) in Virginia in the late 1870s. After graduation, he was a vocal instructor and taught other subjects at rural schools and at Hampton Institute. Following an invitation from Frederick Loudin, McAdoo joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers in Britain in 1885. The following year he sailed with the Singers to Australia, where he performed with the troupe for the entire three-and-a-half-year tour of the Antipodes. While in Australia and New Zealand, McAdoo’s performance received the highest praise in local newspapers. Throughout this time, McAdoo retained close ties to the Hampton Institute and hoped to start a Jubilee Singers company linked to that university. In 1889, rather than participate in the tour of India, McAdoo resigned from the Singers and returned to the United States. By March, 1890 he had recruited several persons to join the McAdoo’s Virginia Concert Company and Jubilee Singers. The following month, this company set off for a tour of the United Kingdom. Finding little success in Britain, McAdoo’s troupe sailed to South Africa in June, 1890. Although they were aghast by the extremely racist views of white South African colonists, McAdoo’s troupe initially found much success. In January, 1892 McAdoo’s Concert Company ventured to Australia. However, by this time, he had hired additional performers from the United States and increasingly introduced elements of minstrel shows into the performances. Over the next eight years, he and various incarnations of his troupes toured South Africa and Australia.
C. Nelson, basso, was a resident of Australia who joined the ranks of the Fisk Jubilee singers following the departure of Orpheus Macadoo in late 1889. Unfortunately, as an enigmatic figure who received no mention in Leota Henson’s letters, Harriet Loudin’s letters, or Frederick Loudin’s published travel narrative, scholars have very little information about Nelson. However, according to Henrietta Matson, “Mr. Nelson is an East Indian Mrs. Loudin got in Australia.” While it is unknown how Harriet Loudin came to know Nelson or how many concerts he performed with the Singers in Australia, he was a member of the troupe throughout their tour of India and Burma. Nelson, the Loudins, Patti Malone, and Maggie Carnes together attended church teas held by British missionaries in Calcutta. Although the number of shows he performed with the FJS in Australia and Asia is not certain, he probably did not travel with the singers on the last leg of the tour to East Asia and the United States. Rather, it is likely that he returned to Australia or stayed in South Asia.
Georgie Gibbons, contralto, did not attend Fisk University, yet she joined Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1884. She performed with the Singers throughout the entirety of the global tour from 1884 to 1890. Unfortunately, little information about Georgia Gibbons is available to scholars. In her correspondence, Leota Henson briefly mentions Georgie Gibbons performing with the Singers and attending various social gatherings in Australia and New Zealand. Gibbons remained a member of Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers for at least three and a half years after the conclusion of the global tour in April, 1890.
Maggie Wilson, contralto, joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers prior to their global tour. Although she did not attend Fisk University, Wilson performed with the Singers throughout their global travels from 1884 to 1890. During the tours of the Antipodes, she and fellow FJS members Patti Malone and Leota Henson attended musical performances and Shakespearean plays at the original Sydney opera house and other venues. Henson’s correspondence provides some detail as to Wilson’s social relationships while living in Australia. Wilson remained a member of Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers until it disbanded in Scotland in 1903.
Maggie Carnes, soprano, was one of the few members of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers to be a part of Loudin’s troupe during the global tour. Born in Tennessee to an enslaved mother in 1854, Carnes entered Fisk University in 1871 and joined the college preparatory program in 1873. She joined the original Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1874 prior to their third tour of North America, Britain, and Continental Europe from January, 1875 to July, 1878. Her vocal talents led to her receiving much praise from audiences in the United States and abroad. Carnes did not rejoin the Jubilee Singers when reformed under George White in 1879. However, after Frederick Loudin formed his own troupe of Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1882, Carnes rejoined several of her former colleagues in their North American and global travels. Leota Henson’s correspondence provides a bit of detail of Carnes’s time in Australia and Asia. Carnes departed from the Singers after the troupe returned to the United States in 1890.
Belle Gibbons, soprano, joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers after Frederick Loudin formed his own troupe of Singers in 1884. Her performances with the FJS received praise in American and Australian newspapers. She was a member of the group during the first part of the global tour. However, rather than join the tour of India and East Asia, Gibbons resigned from the FJS and returned to the States in late 1889. In early 1890 Orpheus McAdoo, who had also recently resigned from Loudin’s troupe, recruited Gibbons to join his own group of Jubilee Singers. For approximately ten years she toured with Orpheus Macadoo’s Virginia Concert Company and Jubilee Singers in Britain, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Following McAdoo’s death in 1900, Gibbons settled in Australia and performed with her own “Jubilee Trio” until at least 1925.
Addie Johnson, soprano, joined Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers in the fall of 1888, following the departure of Mattie Lawrence. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Johnson toured with the Singers in Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. After the Singers’ returned to the United States in April, 1890, she founded the Addie Johnson Concert Company, which performed an unknown number of concerts in Virginia.
Mattie Lawrence, soprano, joined the ranks of Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1884. Unfortunately, very little about her is available to scholars. She was a talented singer who performed solos during the global tour in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. However, Lawrence was evidently a source of some tension within the group. In fact, Harriet Loudin wrote in October, 1886, “I fairly despise Mattie Lawrence.” By the fall of 1888, Addie Johnson had replaced Lawrence as soprano in the Jubilee Singers.
Patti Malone, soprano, was a native of Athens, Alabama who enrolled at Fisk University in 1873. A very talented singer, she received an invitation to join the original Fisk Jubilee Singers during their tours of Europe in 1877. During this time, she experienced recurring ill-health, which resulted in her occasionally being unable to perform. Nevertheless, she went on to rejoin White and Loudin’s troupe in 1879, and she was a member of the FJS throughout Loudin’s global tour. She took a hiatus from the FJS in part of 1888. During which time, Malone became engaged to a British man residing in Australia, and she briefly returned to the United States to visit friends and family in Alabama and Nashville. After rejoining the singers, Malone completed the Australian tour and traveled in India and East Asia with the Singers. Having financially profited during the global tour, Malone had a large home built for herself in Athens, Alabama. However, she retained ties to Fisk University and provided the Jubilee Club with vocal instruction. Malone continued to tour with incarnations of Loudin’s troupe until her death in 1897.
John T. Lane, tenor, joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers prior to the start of their global tour in 1884. Unfortunately, little information about Lane is known to scholars. Although he performed with the troupe throughout the tours in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Asia, and East Asia, he is barely mentioned in the extant correspondence of Harriet Loudin and Leota Henson. However, handbills from the global tour and later tours in the United States and Britain reveal that Lane was a member of Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers until it disbanded in 1903.
G. F. Simpson, tenor, was a member of Loudin’s “homeward bound” troupe who joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers following the departure of several members during their time in Australia. Unfortunately, scholars know very little about Simpson since he received no mention in Leota Henson’s letters, Harriet Loudin’s correspondence, Henrietta Matson’s letters, or Frederick Loudin’s published travel narrative. He performed with the Singers during their time in India. However, since he was not a member of Loudin’s troupe after 1890, it is unknown whether he completed the tour from Asia to the United States.
Robert Bradford Williams, tenor, was one of the few members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers to remain in the Antipodes rather than return to the United States. Born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1861, Williams received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and returned to Georgia as a teacher and voice instructor. He joined Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee singers before they departed for their global tour in 1886. While performing in Melbourne, Australia, Williams married Katherine Josephine Burke, and they eventually purchased a home in Wellington, New Zealand. Although he was a talented singer, he wanted to become a practicing attorney. In 1889, Williams resigned from the Fisk Jubilee Singers and attended law school in New Zealand. He practiced law in Wellington and became involved in local politics, resulting in him becoming Mayor of Onslow Borough in 1903.
Leota Henson served as pianist for the Fisk Jubilee Singers throughout their global tour. The niece of Frederick and Harriet Loudin, she joined the Singers in 1884. She received praise in the Australian and Indian press for her adept organ and piano performance. During the tours of the Antipodes, she and fellow FJS members Patti Malone and Maggie Wilson attended concerts and Shakespearean plays in Sydney, Melbourne, and elsewhere. Her surviving letters held at the Portage County Historical Society Research Library in Ravenna, Ohio provide a wealth of information relating to the Singers’ experiences in New Zealand and Australia, the interpersonal relationships between the troupe members, and audience reactions to their performances. After the Singers returned to the United States in April,1890 she continued to be a member of her uncle’s troupe. She remained the pianist of the Fisk Jubilee Singers until it disbanded in 1903. Afterward she relocated to Detroit with her husband, who was a medical professional. For twenty-six years she served as treasurer of the Phyllis Wheatly Home Association, which was an eldercare facility for persons of color in Detroit.
Harriet Johnson Loudin served as the semi-official manager and logistics expert for the Fisk Jubilee Singers throughout their global tour. Originally from Philadelphia, she and her husband, Frederick, moved to Memphis in 1874. After Frederick Loudin joined the original FJS in 1875, she accompanied the troupe on their tours of North America, Britain, and continental Europe. During these tours, Harriet Loudin began to take part in the making of arrangements for the singers’ performances and for their lodging. After her husband became the leader of the troupe in 1884, she took on even more of a role as the Singers’ unofficial manager. Although Mr. Price served as advance agent for the Singers during their tours in India and the Antipodes, at times he was unsuccessful in booking venues, securing land or seaborne transportation, or reserving adequate lodging during the tours. Harriet Loudin proved invaluable in making such arrangements, in the production and sale of FJS memorabilia, and in managing the finances of the Singers. After returning to the United States in April, 1890, the Loudins purchased an ornate house in Ravenna, Ohio. Harriet Loudin continued to act as a manager to the FJS during the tours of the United States, Canada, Britain, and Ireland until the dissolution of Loudin’s Singers in 1903. Following the death of her husband in 1904, she remained in residence in Ravenna, Ohio.