The Jubilee Singers Monument

Shabazz Larkin 2022

Here stands a monument to the Jubilee Singers of Nashville, Tennessee, a testament to the power and resiliency of Black people and power of Black Music. The nine hand-carved logs represent the two quartets and pianist that made up the student chorus. They sang traditional spirituals at the historically Black college of Fisk University in 1871 with the aim to raise money to house students, most of which were formerly enslaved humans. As they traveled on their world tours, they sparked a love for Black Music around the globe.

Legend has it that when Queen Victoria of England heard these nine Nashvillians sing in 1873, she said they must be from “Music City.” And this is where Nashville got its nickname.

The words inscribed into the side of this pillar–“SWING LOW SWEET CHARIOT COMING FOR TO CARRY ME HOME”–reference the first recording of Black Music, in 1909. At the time, singing a song like this was a taboo; for a newly emancipated people this was considered “slave music,” a relic of a painful and traumatic past. But for the Jubilee Singers, the spirituals were a sound of pride in history and resilience through presence.

The first eight log carvings were collected from trees local to Tennessee – such as sassafras, walnut, cherry and maple. These are the trees Black Tennesseans would have used for healing, shelter and tool making - for generations. So each of these logs have practical, historical and spiritual significance to everyday life for this community. The last carved log, marked “home,” was brought in from Mozambique, Africa, a nod tothe furthest reaches of the trans-atlantic slave trade and a place before the traumatic past.

Those who are able to offer peace, reverence and respect to the monument and these ancestors are invited to carefully sit on this final log, to participate in this sculpture’s sacred presence.