The chapel serves as the home for the world famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. The choral group was formed at Fisk University in 1871 and began touring to raise funds for the institution. Jubilee Day is still celebrated on campus each October 6th, the anniversary of the first public performance. In 1872, the Fisk Jubilee Singers performed at the World Peace Festival in Boston and were invited later that year to sing in the White House by President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1873, the eleven-member choir toured Europe, raising funds to build Jubilee Hall on campus. The group is still very active, and describes themselves as an a capella ensemble that performs Negro spirituals originally sung by slaves before the Civil War. A video to one of their performances is linked below.
A saying is inscribed over the chapel entrance: Arise shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Since what would become Fisk University was founded by two agents of the American Missionary Association in 1865, the educational and spiritual lives of the students have long been intertwined. A litany of famous people have visited the chapel and given performances, including Duke Ellington, Louis C. Armstrong and Nat King Cole. Langston Hughes has given a poetry reading here.
Photographs taken at Fisk University in 1899 were reportedly exhibited in the American Negro exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1900. One photo (included in this entry) shows the choir in front of the pipe organ in the chapel. Photographs for the exhibit were gathered by W.E.B. Du Bois (a member of the class of 1888) and Thomas J. Calloway. If the interior of the chapel looks familiar, you may have seen it on television shows or movies shot here.
The historic restoration of the chapel during its hundredth year in 1992 has won a number of preservation awards. The chapel is a contributing resource to the Fisk University Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.