History was made at the 2021 Grammys — and we’re not just talking about Beyoncé’s total wins reaching a record-breaking 28, more than any other singer in all of time. Fisk University, a private HBCU in Nashville, Tennessee, also had a monumental night. The school’s 150-year-old a capella choral group, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, won their first Grammy Award ever! Given out during the nontelevised portion of the program, this award recognized the group’s June 2020 release Celebrating Fisk! (The 150th Anniversary Album) as the Best Roots Gospel Album.
Featuring 12 songs, including “Wade in the Water,” “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” and “Way Over in Egypt Land,” this album reps Fisk’s set — and Black culture in general — to the fullest. “It’s the first time we have won a Grammy,” said Dr. Paul Kwami, as reported by The Tennesseean. “Sometimes I think it’s because of the music we’re known for, which is the Negro spiritual. Whatever the case, I’m happy this happened in the year we are celebrating our 150th anniversary. It’s an addition to the celebration.”
The OG choral ensemble had nine members when it was founded in November 1871. Made up primarily of formerly enslaved people, the majority of whom were still teenagers, the group traveled the country (and later, the world) performing spirituals and other “slave songs” in various venues to raise money to help keep Fisk U up and running. By year three, they’d not only raised enough to save their school but also to build their campus’s first permanent building, Jubilee Hall, which is now a National Historic Landmark. Since then, this crew has recorded hella albums and won hella awards.
And they’re not about to stop now.
Main Photo: @fiskjublieesingers/Instagram; Fisk Jubliee Singers photographers: Dave Hawkins and Bill Steber