Anonymous donor gives Fisk Jubilee Singers $1.5M

The historic gospel group based at Fisk University received a welcome, if mysterious gift this week

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The Fisk Jubilee Singers, a vocal group at Fisk University whose tradition dates back 150 years, received a $1.5 million anonymous donation to establish a permanent endowment.

The university in Nashville, Tennessee, announced Thursday that the gift was one of the largest donations ever made to the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who also earned their first Grammy Award this year.

The musical tradition began in 1871 as a group of students who sang slave spirituals at public performances to raise money for the university. Over the years, their singers have preserved the music created by African slaves as well as served as ambassadors for the historically Black university.

The university said the money will established an endowed fund named after longtime musical director Paul T. Kwami, who is also an alumnus of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The university is committed to raising $5 million for the endowment to fund retention, recruitment and programming.

“This donation provides a wonderful lead gift, and we are hopeful many others will follow in this historic year,” said Kwami.

This gift comes along with another donation given to the university, also anonymously. In March of this year, Fisk announced that they had been gifted $1.1M, also from an anonymous donor, specifically to the university’s Fisk Vanderbilt Masters-to-Ph.D. program. Fisk and Vanderbilt have partnered on the program which has been a leader in educating African Americans in STEM.

Fisk Jubilee Singers (official website)

The gift will fund ten of the program’s students studying astrophysics, material science, and physics.

“This donation will change the lives of these students and further inspire Fisk’s mission of preparing the next generation of executives and leaders across every sector of the economy,” executive vice president Jens Frederiksen said in a statement.

Fisk and its programs have been the beneficiary of unprecedented benefits this year. The Tennessee law firm Cravath, Swaine and Moore LLP donated $3M to the university in June. The gift is for infrastructure improvements, including for Jubilee Hall which Fisk University says is the oldest remaining building on any HBCU campus.

“This $3 million donation from Cravath, Swaine & Moore is simply extraordinary,” Fisk president Vann Newkirk said in a press release. “This donation will support our continuing efforts to create the best possible learning environment for our outstanding and growing student body.”

Fisk University (Official website)

The firm has a strong connection to Fisk through one of its partners. Abolitionist Reverend Erastus Milo Cravath, was a founder of the university and its first president. His son, Paul Drennan Cravath, became a named partner in the firm, and he, was actively involved in the university. Cravath Swaine & Moore co-founded the scholarship program and internship program, Cravath Scholars, with Fisk in 2019.

“Over the past five years, Fisk has established some amazing partnerships that provide students with unprecedented opportunities and exposure,” Fredericksen said. “With partners like Cravath, the Fisk future has never looked brighter, and we are very hopeful that more and more companies will support Fisk’s inspiring mission.”

Additional reporting by Tonya Pendleton

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