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April 18, 1993|ANNE KLARNER

Listen to the humming, the soft, low harmonies as the singers tell the tale of slavery, endurance, salvation and freedom.

The song is the spiritual, which will be sung by the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers on Wednesday night at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.

According to McNeil, jubilee singing is the tradition of singing spirituals a capella in a choir. There are currently 34 singers in the group.

"I like to think of it as what is good and exciting about African-American music," the classically trained director said. "It is so wonderful to grow in acceptance and pride of one's own people.

"Sure, we want to be paid for what we do, but it's more than that. We're not an 'act' (in a nightclub). That's why I'm so honored to be at the Ambassador. We do it as a concert attraction."

It's an attraction that's been packing audiences in around the world for almost 30 years.

McNeil started the group in 1964 when he was a choir director at the People's Independent Church of Christ in Los Angeles and Hollywood turned to him for singers.

"I organized a double quartet," he said. "But I was thinking of it as more than just a choir."

After obtaining a doctoral degree in music in 1956 and studying choral directing and music in Lausanne, Switzerland, McNeil began researching the often overlooked tradition of jubilee singing.

McNeil's group continues the tradition, but "right now, we've expanded our repertory" to include later black music such as gospel, African folk songs, calypso and the jazz of Duke Ellington.

The concert starts at 8 p.m. at the auditorium, 300 West Green St. Tickets are $17 to $20.

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