[Fisk Jubilee Singers]

"Shelly Jubilee Singers" - Unusual African Americana Shell Art

A very unusual piece of unsigned and anonymous African Americana art, titled "Shelly Jubilee Singers" and depicting four singers holding music, their faces made from painted shells. The shells are turned vertically for the men's faces, and horizontally for the ladies to allow for the shape of their church hats. The music they are holding initially appears to be straightforward hymns, but on closer inspection, the words are actually verses of a cheeky song that plays with the expectations of the listener, e.g.: "O for a man-, O for a man-, a mansion in the sky," and "I feel like hell-, I feel like hell-, I feel like helping some poor soul." 

The title seems to be a playful reference to the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the African-American choir founded shortly after the Civil War by students at the newly founded Fisk University of Nashville. The group toured the U.S. and Europe in the late nineteenth century and played an important role in spreading an appreciation of spirituals and gospel music. The group continues to perform and tour today.

The drawing is executed in ink and paint, and the shells are attached to the card with metal fasteners. Undated and unsigned, probably ca. 1920.  A few spots but overall in fine condition. 11.75 x 5.5 inches (29.9 x 14.3 cm).  (13314)

Culture, Ethnicity & Gender
Art & Design