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African American History
in Pennsylvania:
the 19th Century

Carolina Singers
Odd Fellows Hall, 1873

The following article is one in a series of short articles about the musical traditions of Harrisburg's African American community. 

Carolina Singers, Odd Fellows’ Hall
Harrisburg, May 26, 1873

Following the Civil War, African American choral groups toured the United States and Europe, performing traditional African American spirituals, work songs, and other works. The groups were often composed of former slaves, and were frequently sponsored by northern societies. One such group, The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, is perhaps the most well known. Beginning as a fundraising concept in 1867, the Jubilee Singers popularized and helped to preserve traditional African American vocal works, presenting them to northern audiences who were hearing them for the first time.

Carolina Singers, Odd Fellows Hall, Harrisburg, May 26, 1873.The Carolina Singers toured the United States in the mid-1870’s, spending several months performing in Philadelphia and coming to Harrisburg, where they sang at the African American Odd Fellows’ Hall, in Tanners’ Alley, on May 26, 1873.  They performed under the direction of Rev. W. Richardson, of Fairfield Presbytery in South Carolina, and proceeds from ticket sales were to go toward the erection of a new school building there. This carte de visit was probably sold at the event as an additional fundraising means. It is inscribed on the reverse, in handwritten pencil, with the place and date.

Cdv from the Afrolumens Project collection.  Please click the picture for a larger image.

One of the performers, Christine Rutledge, wrote down the group's repertoire in a circa 1873 publication, Spirituelles, (Unwritten Songs of South Carolina), Sung by the Carolina Singers, During Their Campaigns in The North, in 1872-73, Written for the First Time, from Memory, by Christine Rutledge, (One of the Singers).   This book, published in Philadelphia by Henry Acker, listed the spirituals that the group was performing on their tours, and most likely were the same songs that the Harrisburg audience in the Odd Fellows Hall heard.

According to Rutledge, the Carolina Singers performed the following folk and gospel songs, which were popular in their native South Carolina : The Gospel Train, Steal Away, Soul Says to the Body, Where Shall I Go?, Going to Write to Master Jesus, Rise Christians, Shout Independent, Keep Me From Sinking Down, O Sinner Man, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Roll Jordan Roll, No More Horn Blow Here, Sweet Turtle Dove, Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel, Go Down Moses, Resurrection Morning.

An advertisement for one of their early Philadelphia appearances gives an interesting glimpse into their image:

Will be "REPEATED." With additional Choice Selections,
Seventh St. below Bainbridge.
Wednesday Evening, February 5, 1873.
The Troupe will Consist of Two
All of whom were formerly Slaves.
Come and hear them Sing the Popular
SPIRITUALS and Plantation
Songs of the South, as only
Slaves can sing Them.
ADMISSION 25 Cts., Children 15 Cts.

Among the persons listed as ticket agents in Philadelphia were Sarah H. Bustill (the wife of Joseph Bustill), Caroline White (the wife of Jacob C. White), James Down, George B. White, Hannah Clay, Robert Adger (African American abolitionist, Philadelphia merchant, born into slavery in South Carolina), Elizabeth Thomas, and the Christian Recorder office.  A May 1873 article about the group listed their membership as having three males and five females, matching the composition of the singing group in the picture above.

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This page was updated November 27, 2006.