A Journey Paved with Songs of Freedom

A post by Andrea Jones Blackford, Director, Jubilee Voices & Co-Director, Heritage Voices
March 1, 2019

Jubilee Voices at the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Celebration in 2018. Photo courtesy of NPS/Tim Ervin.

As Washington Revels Jubilee Voices enters its ninth year as an ensemble, we’ve shared songs and stories all over the DC region, from the National Archives in Washington, DC to places as far away as Centerville, MD on the Eastern Shore. We enjoy performing everywhere, but one of the things that we love best is “singing the journey” of our ancestors in communities: in churches, in schools, and at community events. These often-intimate performances feel like family gatherings and they provide us with a special opportunity to pass down songs and stories in the ways that our ancestors did. Watching parents, elders, children, neighbors, and friends gathered to sing the songs they knew from way back when — and learning new songs, too — helps us to preserve the traditions of African American history, music, and culture.

For this year’s Black History Month, Jubilee Voices was invited to perform at two wonderful venues: the first celebrating Frederick Douglass’ birthday in the shadow of his historic home in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC; and the second in Upper Marlboro, MD in Prince George’s County.

On February 16 at DC Prep Academy, just around the corner from Frederick Douglass’ home on Cedar Hill, we celebrated with community members, students and their parents, and winners of the Frederick Douglass Oratorical Contest in an afternoon program that featured stirring poetry from local students and Douglass’ fiery oratory brought to life by the young contest winners, all punctuated with spirituals, ring shouts, and songs by Jubilee Voices. Participating in this celebration has been an annual tradition for our ensemble, and we are honored and happy to be part of it!

Performing for the Darnall’s Chance audience.

And just last Saturday, February 23, Jubilee Voices performed our new Black History Month program for a packed house at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upper Marlboro, sponsored by the Darnall’s Chance House Museum. Our show — a mix of history, song, dance, dramatic readings, and lots of participation — was well received by the audience, which included young people and a group of African American “Red Hat Society” ladies, many of whom knew the songs and sang along. By the time the enthusiastic audience joined us in the Georgia Sea Island ring shout, “Read ‘Em John,” we felt as if we had all bonded as a family.

For Jubilee Voices, that’s the best part of doing this work — sharing in the joy of the music and the stories behind it, with the knowledge that these songs helped sustain a people and guided their journey to freedom.

It has been an exciting month and a humbling experience to step back in time and understand what our ancestors experienced as they navigated that long road. It’s no accident that many of the songs we sing inspired Freedom Songs for the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice movements across the globe. By learning this music and sharing it with others, passing it down in the oral tradition — parent to child, friend to friend, family to family, and within communities — we can all help to ensure that these songs and their history are preserved, and that current and future generations will be inspired to raise their voices for freedom and justice, too. Come join us as we continue to “sing the journey” this year!

See Upcoming Jubilee Voices Events

 


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