Sheppard, Samuella “Ella”
- David Bradford
singer, pianist, arranger, teacher, writer, and assistant director of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to slave parents Simon Sheppard, a liveryman, and Sarah Hannah Sheppard, a domestic servant.
On 22 December 1871, ten African American students from Fisk University in Nashville—all but two former slaves—stood before the large, wealthy white congregation of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn and forever transformed American music. On a mission to raise money for their destitute school—formed by the American Missionary Association in 1866 to train black teachers the Jubilee Singers had struggled across the eastern United States performing choral arrangements of slave spirituals to small and largely uncomprehending white audiences On the verge of defeat the group was invited to sing at Plymouth Church by its pastor Henry Ward Beecher the most influential religious figure in America Beecher and his congregation were ...
A version of this article originally appeared in African American National Biography.