Reverend Alden and the Jubilee Singers

In 1883 Isabella was living in the small town of Carbondale, Pennsylvania.

Illustration of an aerial view of the city showing layout of streets, and a river that flows past one end of the town.
A bird’s eye view of Carbondale, Pennsylvania in 1875.

Her husband had become pastor of Carbondale’s Presbyterian Church the year before, and he was already making his imprint upon the congregation.

Illustration showing two churches side by side. The Presbyterian church is constructed in a Gothic style with a square bell tower.
The Presbyterian Church of Carbondale on the left (the Methodist church on the right), as it appeared in 1911. When the Alden’s attended, the church was smaller and had a “beautifully proportioned spire, tall, slender and tapering.”

Reverend Alden was pastor of the Carbondale church for only three years, but decades after his departure, members of his congregation still remembered him as a leader who encouraged his flock to immerse themselves in the Lord’s work.

One member of the church said:

“He brought the church up to a high state of activity.”

In 1883 Reverend Alden brought the great American evangelist Reverend A. B. Earle to Carbondale for a two-week-long revival meeting.

Illustration of A. B. Earle from about 1870.
American evangelist A. B. Earle.

It was a resounding success. Thousands of people attended and hundreds committed their lives to Christ.

The religious revival meetings, held day and night for the two weeks past, close today. There has been no abatement of the interest, and each of the meetings have been largely attended, some of those in the evening crowded to the utmost capacity of the Presbyterian church. About three hundred persons, many of them adults and heads of families, have professed their faith in Christ and given satisfactory evidence of a change of heart.
From The Carbondale Leader, March 16, 1883.

The following year Reverend Alden organized a temperance rally, where the featured speaker was evangelist and temperance advocate P. A. Burdick.

Black and white photograph of P. A. Burdick.
Temperance advocate and evangelist P. A. Burdick.

He, too, drew large crowds and had a profound effect on the community

We are pleased to state that Mr. Burdick will reach here tomorrow and commence his labors on Sabbath evening. The first meeting will be held in one of the churches, and it is hoped that all classes of temperance people will join in the good work. All circumstances promise to be favorable, and we shall be greatly disappointed if a great reformation in this line is not effected in our city.
From The Carbondale Leader, March 21, 1884.

Also in 1883 Reverend Alden organized an event of which he was extremely proud. The previous year, while at Chautauqua Institution, he had heard the Fisk Jubilee Singers perform; and he was so impressed by their performance, he immediately went to work to convince them to perform at his church in Carbondale.

Photo of the Fisk Singers, five women and four men.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1870.

The members of Fisk Jubilee Singers were all students at Fisk University in Nashville, a liberal arts university that opened in 1866. Some of the first students were newly freed or had family members that were freed slaves. To raise funds for the university, music professor George White organized a nine-member chorus to perform in concerts.

They introduced to the world the slave songs that “were sacred to our parents” and had never before been sung in public. The Jubilee Singers’ beautiful performances soon gained a following. They began to receive critical praise, and in 1872 they sang for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House.

A year later a second company embarked on a tour of England, where they performed before Queen Victoria and Prime Minister William Gladstone.

Photo of the Fisk Singers, six women and three men.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1875.

At home they performed at Carnegie Hall, where Mark Twain was a member of the audience and remarked:

“It’s something I never heard before. I’d walk seven miles to hear them again.”

By 1883 there were different Jubilee troupes touring different parts of the country. One of those troupes performed at Chautauqua, where Reverend Alden heard them, and resolved to bring them to Carbondale.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers performed at the Presbyterian Church of Carbondale on June 12, 1883. You can feel Reverend Alden’s enthusiasm in the press release he wrote (co-authored with Isabella and her brother-in-law, Reverend Charles Livingstone) for the local newspaper:

“Carbondale may now make ready for one of the most enjoyable entertainments ever prepared for mortal ears. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are coming!”

Here’s the full text of that press release:

Carbondale may now make ready for one of the most enjoyable entertainments ever prepared for mortal ears. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are coming! That one sentence should set this city on fire of expectancy. These twelve sons and daughters of former bondsmen render the rarest, most touching, most inspiring most wonderful music, to which we have ever listened. They made a world-wide reputation years ago, and still before Kings and Queens and Presidents, and critics of the highest order, they "hold their high carnival of song," while the immense audience is bound by the strange spell of their voices, or become wild in rapturous applause. If you have read in all the leading papers the seemingly extravagant praise of these wonderful singers, you have only to come to Nealon's Opera House on the evening of June 12th, 1883, to learn that "the half was never told." [signed] Mr. and Mrs. G. R. Alden, Rev. C. N. Livingston
From The Carbondale Leader, June 1, 1883.

Would you like to hear The Fisk Jubilee Singers? Click here to listen to their 1909 recording of “Golden Slippers,” part of a Fisk Jubilee Singers collection at the Library of Congress.

You can learn more about the Fisk University and the history of the Jubilee Singers by clicking here to visit their website.

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