Ella Sheppard

Since I can never rely on Wikipedia to publish the complete article, again I am posting it here, so y'all can get the WHOLE truth!

Ella Sheppard
 (4 February 1851 - 9 June 1914) was a soprano, pianist, composer, and arranger of Negro Spirituals. She was the matriarch of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville, Tennessee.[1][2][3] She also played the organ and the guitar. Sheppard was a friend and trusted confidante of African-American activists and orators Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass.[4]

Ella Sheppard, singer, pianist, arranger of Negro Spirituals, and matriarch of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers

Early life and education[edit]

A direct descendant of Andrew Jackson, Samuella "Ella" Sheppard was born on Jackson's plantation The Hermitage.[5][6] Sheppard's father Simon hired himself out as a Nashville liveryman and hack driver, and was able to earn $1,800 to buy his freedom. Sarah Hannah Sheppard, Ella's mother, was promised that her freedom could be purchased by Simon, but the slave mistress reneged on the agreement. "Sarah shall never belong to Simon," she declared. "She is mine and she shall die mine. Let Simon get another wife."[2] Fed-up with slave life, Sarah threatened that she'd rather "...take Ella and jump into the river than see her a slave." Legend says that Ella's mother took to her to the riverbank to carry out the threat, but an elderly slave woman prevented her, saying, “Don’t do it, Honey! Don’t you see God’s chariot a-comin’ down from Heaven? Let the chariot of the Lord swing low. This child is gonna stand before kings and queens! The Lord would have need of that child.”[2][7][8] Sarah took the woman's advice, scooped little Ella into her arms, and walked back up the hill to slavery. Fearing the loss of little Ella, the slave mistress allowed Simon Sheppard to purchase his own daughter for $350.[9] When Young Ella's mother was sold to a plantation in Mississippi, she remained in Nashville with her father. Simon married another slave woman and paid $1,300 for her freedom.[10]
In 1856, a race riot hit Nashville causing whites to tighten controls on local free Negroes. As a result, Simon was unable to work and soon found himself in debt. Fearful of his family being seized as assets and sold as slaves, he fled to Cincinnati, Ohio.[9] Ella showed exceptional musical talent, so her father bought a piano and paid for private music lessons with a German woman. Young Ella attended a colored school in Cincinnati.[9], and also studied with a white American teacher who gave lessons on the condition she enter and exit through the back door at night, and that she keep it a secret. After her father’s death from cholera in 1866, Ella supported herself, her stepmother and half-sister by playing for local functions, working as a maid, and teaching music in Gallatin, Tennessee.[11] After about five months she was only able to save a little more than $6, because the poor black pupils were not always able to pay for their lessons. She took that $6 and enrolled at the Fisk Free Colored School in Nashville, Tennessee in 1868, where her $6 lasted three weeks.[12][9]


Fisk Jubilee Singers 1882
Sheppard taught music in Nashville, which paid for her studies over the next two years. She was asked to teach music at the Fisk School, making her the only black staff member at the school before 1875.[13] When Fisk's treasurer, George L. White overheard some of the students singing the original old "plantation songs," which were not meant to be heard in public[14][15], he was so moved by these haunting melodies that he decided to have them arranged for concert performance, in European-style four-part harmony. Sheppard did most of the arranging of these works. The first tours were successful, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers were formed in 1871 to go on a national tour. Sheppard worked as the primary vocal coach and director for the group, collecting over one hundred songs for their repertoire[16], as well as accompanying the choir on piano, overseeing rehearsals, and conducting during performances.[9]
Sheppard was front and center when the group performed for Queen Victoria in London in April of 1873.[17][18] The Queen was reportedly so moved that she proclaimed that, "... with such beautiful voices, they must be from the Music City" of the United States. Hence, the nickname for Nashville, Tennessee – Music City USA – was born. The Fisk Jubilee Singers - who were the first African-American former slaves to tour Europe after the American Civil War - performed the Spirituals "Steal Away" and "Go Down, Moses" for The Queen.[19][20]
It was the melody of Sheppard's arrangement of the spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" that was sung to Czech composer Antonín Dvořák by his student Harry Burleigh in New York, which was quoted in the first movement of his Symphony from the New World.[21][22][23]
The original Jubilee Singers disbanded in 1878 because of their grueling touring schedule. Ella Sheppard was quoted as saying, "Our strength was failing under the ill treatment at hotels, on railroads, poorly attended concerts, and ridicule."[24][25] As violence against African-Americans grew in the South, it was deemed unsafe for women to travel with group. A male quartet called the Fisk Jubilee Quartet was formed to carry on the tradition of the Spirituals in concert form. In 1916, a subsequent male sextet was formed and eventually directed by the widow of one of the members of the original quartet, Mrs. James A. Myers.[13] [26][27] The full choir was reinstated in 1947 by director John W. Work, III.[28]

Ella Sheppard Moore with her sons, husband, and mother Sarah on the steps of her home in Nashville, Tennessee
In 1882, Sheppard married George Washington Moore, a prominent minister known for his work with the American Missionary Association.[29] She eventually found her mother in Mississippi and brought her back to Nashville to live in her home.[30][31]


On November 17, 2009, the Ella Sheppard School of Music was founded by Chicago Native and former Fisk Jubilee Singer Geo Cooper - who studied piano with Matthew Kennedy, director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1957 to 1986 - with the blessing of Ella Sheppard's great granddaughter Beth Howse.[32][13] Since its inception, the school has provided free musical instruction to hundreds of children ages 2-14 on Chicago's West Side.[33]


  1. Jump up^ https://www.loc.gov/item/2015650289/
  2. Jump up to:a b c "Dark Midnight When I Rise"archive.nytimes.com.
  3. Jump up^ http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2015650289/
  4. Jump up^ http://www.popflock.com/learn?s=Fisk_Jubilee_Singers
  5. Jump up^ https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2014/02/02/ella-sheppard-moore-was-a-jubilee-pioneer-/5149993/
  6. Jump up^ "Sheppard, Ella (1851-1915) - The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed"www.blackpast.org.
  7. Jump up^ "noshwithninatv"noshwithninatv.
  8. Jump up^ https://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/Swing%20Low%20article.pdf
  9. Jump up to:a b c d e "Ella Sheppard, an original Jubilee Singer - African American Registry".
  10. Jump up^ "Dark Midnight When I Rise"archive.nytimes.com.
  11. Jump up^ https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/47596963/ella-moore
  12. Jump up^ https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2014/02/02/ella-sheppard-moore-was-a-jubilee-pioneer-/5149993/
  13. Jump up to:a b c https://digitalscholarship.tnstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=lib
  14. Jump up^ http://www.tn4me.org/sapage.cfm/sa_id/52/era_id/5/major_id/6/minor_id/8/a_id/38
  15. Jump up^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisk_Jubilee_Singers
  16. Jump up^ "Fisk University Jubilee Singers, in chronological order [electronic resource]. - Princeton University Library Catalog"catalog.princeton.edu.
  17. Jump up^ http://africanamericanspirituals.com/Fisk-Jubilee-Singers.htm
  18. Jump up^ http://www.tn4me.org/article.cfm/a_id/38/minor_id/8/major_id/6/era_id/5
  19. Jump up^ https://www.royal.uk/sites/default/files/media/victoria.pdf
  20. Jump up^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisk_Jubilee_Singers
  21. Jump up^ "African American Influences"DVOŘÁK AMERICAN HERITAGE ASSOCIATION.
  22. Jump up^ https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/sep/02/symphony-guide-dvorak-9th-new-world-symphony-tom-service
  23. Jump up^ https://www.britannica.com/topic/New-World-Symphony
  24. Jump up^ Ward, Andrew (2000). Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America. Farrar Straus abd Giroux.
  25. Jump up^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisk_Jubilee_Singers
  26. Jump up^https://hbcudigitallibrary.auctr.edu/digital/collection/FUPP/search/searchterm/(1884).!photographs,%20jubilee%20singers/field/all!subjec/mode/any!all/conn/and!and/order/subjec/page/3
  27. Jump up^ http://popmusic.mtsu.edu/archives/inventory/gosarts89.html
  28. Jump up^ http://memory.loc.gov:8081/ammem/ftvhtml/workbio.html
  29. Jump up^ https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2014/02/02/ella-sheppard-moore-was-a-jubilee-pioneer-/5149993/
  30. Jump up^ http://ww2.tnstate.edu/library/digital/sheppard.htm
  31. Jump up^ https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=62508
  32. Jump up^ "Beth Howse, an original Fisk Jubilee descendent"Vimeo.
  33. Jump up^ "ESSOM(Ella Sheppard School of Music)"www.facebook.com.


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