Focusing on the Virginia Jubilee Singers, an African American singing ensemble that toured South Africa in the late nineteenth century, this article reveals how the transnational reach of commercialized black music informed debates about race, modernity, and black nationalism in South Africa. The South African performances of the Jubilee Singers enlivened debates concerning race, labor and the place of black South Africans in a rapidly industrializing South Africa. A visit from the first generation of global black American superstars fueled both white and black concerns about the racial political economy. The sonic actions of the Jubilee Singers were therefore a springboard for black South African claims for recognition as modern, educated and educable subjects, capable of, and entitled to, the full apparatus, and insignia, of liberal self-determination. Although black South Africans welcomed the Jubilee Singers enthusiastically, the article cautions against reading their positive reception as evidence that black Africans had no agenda of their own and looked to African Americans as their leaders in a joint struggle.
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