By Joseph Morgan
Photographs by Duan Davis
On Sunday, March 19th the Fisk Jubilee Singers held their Annual Spring Sing at Ryman Auditorium in celebration of the auditorium’s 125th Anniversary. Further, at intermission they celebrated songwriter, producer and record company owner, Mike Curb with honorary membership to the group. The evening’s Master of Ceremonies was none other than the Fisk’s own Dr. Paul T. Kwami, Professor at Fisk, Director of the singers, and a veritable Nashville Institution himself.
The first half of the concert featured A Portrait Comes to Life in which the singers appeared onstage in 19th Century Costume in a live version of the famous portrait of the singers housed in Jubilee Hall at the University. The singers each gave a moving biographical portrait of each historical singer that they represented, between excellent performances of the traditional spirituals. Special mention goes to alto Victoria Sanders’ performance of “Down by the Riverside” and bass Allen Christian’s performance on “The Gospel Train.” Of course the best number of the night was Kwami’s excellent arrangement of “Wade in the Water,” led by the marvelous Crystal Brooks.
After intermission, the concert turned into a kind of revue inspired by the eclectic history of Ryman auditorium and grounded by the constant presence of the Fisk Singer’s enriching voices. Trumpeter Rod McGaha brought a soulful yet hilarious 2nd line rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that might have made Satchmo himself smile. The soulful covers by Ruby Amanfu’s (“I Will Always Love You”) and MarQo Patton (“Stay With Me”) enriched in interest the songs that they borrowed. Similarly, Anthony David’s Ray Charles impression (with a little “Yo Diggity” mixed in) mixed nostalgia with a hope for the music’s future. Country artists Rodney Atkins and Lee Ann Womack represented well. Womack’s performance of “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right” was particularly moving given the current political context. However, the highlight of the evening was The Fairfield Four’s authentic a cappella performance of “Rock My Soul.” The concert ended with a performance of Fisk’s alma mater “The Gold and Blue” and Kwami promised to be back next year. I, for one, hope to be there.