Nina Kennedy Participates in Panel Discussion on the Negro Spiritual


Nina and Matthew Kennedy
On February 24th, the Church of the Holy Spirit of Lake Forest, Illinois presented a panel discussion on "The History and Evolution of the Negro Spiritual." Panelists included former Fisk Jubilee Singers Delano O'Banion, George Cooper, Robert Denson, and E.J. Murray. Nina Kennedy was the only non-Jubilee Singer panelist, as her father served as director of the group from 1957 to 1986. The Reverend Mother Jihan Murray-Smith, Associate Rector at the Church of the Holy Spirit, - and also a former Fisk Jubilee Singer - served as moderator. The conversation included much history of the Negro Spiritual starting with its origins on American plantations during slavery, and the importation of African melodies during the Middle Passage. Several recordings were heard including those of Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson.

Delano O'Banion
While the famous portrait of the Fisk Jubilee Singers commissioned by Queen Victoria was on the screen, Nina Kennedy shared information on Ella Sheppard, seated at the piano in the painting, who should be celebrated as an African-American woman composer of the 19th century, who notated arrangements of the spirituals sung by the group. It is no coincidence that George Cooper is the director and founder of the Ella Sheppard School of Music in Chicago.

George Cooper
Toward the end of the discussion, the Reverend Mother Murray-Smith played a video of the Fisk Jubilee Singers performing the spiritual "Steal Away." Nina Kennedy pointed out that the arrangement performed was her father's, and provided information on acquiring the sheet music for that arrangement. Several questions from the audience followed, including requests for an explanation on the difference between spirituals and gospel, and inquiries as to how many enslaved Africans were practicing Muslims. Kennedy clarified that the only legal gathering place for the enslaved was the church where biblical passages encouraging servitude were stressed. Delano O'Banion pointed out that gospel songs were composed in the 20th century, as opposed to spirituals that were sung on plantations and varied depending upon which plantation one came from.

E.J. Murray                               Jihan Murray-Smith

Order Matthew Kennedy's arrangements of "Steal Away" and "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit" here.

Watch Nina Kennedy's master class with the Fisk Jubilee Singers.


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