Sweet Chariot – Thomas Rutling and The Road to Freedom | Harrogate International Festivals
Friday 24th July
Royal Hall | 8pm
This year marks the centenary of the death of Thomas Rutling, ex-Fisk Jubilee Singer,who
settled in Harrogate in 1891 and lived in the town until his death in 1915. On 26 April,
Diasporian Stories Research Group held a joint event with Harrogate Civic Society to
commemorate this anniversary.
Thomas Rutling performed with the Fisk Jubilee Singers for seven and a half years from
their foundation to the end of their second great tour of Europe. When the original troupe
disbanded in Germany in 1878, Thomas Rutling went to Switzerland to recover his health.
He stayed on the Continent for twelve years studying singing and languages. He came to
England in 1890, a classically trained tenor and proficient in French, German and Italian.
In Harrogate he taught singing and languages and continued to perform, billing himself as
“The African Tenor”.
From 1907 onwards he toured the country giving his “popular concert lectures” at which
he told the story of his life and performed the songs of his ancestors. This played a large
part in keeping them alive so that they could evolve into the gospel music of today.
This concert in his honour is being held in the beautifully restored Royal Hall as part of the
prestigious Harrogate Festival. The evening will feature Ronald Samm (star of Carnival
Messiah and Verdi’s Otello), a gospel choir, and Joe Williams who will present extracts
from Thomas Rutling’s autobiography.