Museum “legends” ceremony for black music artists before Juneteenth

The National Museum of African-American Music’s annual “Celebration of Legends” has always lived up to its name, but perhaps never more so than with this year’s event, which takes place tonight at the Ryman auditorium.

First of all, there is cause for celebration: this is the museum’s first major concert since it opened in Nashville last January, after more than 20 years of development.

And there has never been a class of laureates more legendary than this year, which includes true pillars of American music. Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan and the Nashville Fisk Jubilee Singers will each receive the museum’s “Rhapsody and Rhythm” award.

Henry Hicks, President and CEO of the National Museum of African American Music, guides a media tour Tuesday, January 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.  Visitors will be able to enjoy the museum when it opens to the public at the end of January.

“I think (the winners) wanted to be part of the celebration of the inaugural year of the museum’s opening,” said museum president and CEO H. Beecher Hicks III.

“We are delighted to be able to honor such an august group of people who are legends and who will become legendary as things continue to unfold. We are truly delighted.”

Recognition for Nashville’s Fisk Jubilee Singers comes as the vocal group celebrates its 150th anniversary – and after the challenges of the pandemic have placed many obstacles in their way. Earlier this year, the band won their first-ever Grammy Award for their live album “Celebrating Fisk!”

Fisk Jubilee Singers Music Director Paul T. Kwami addresses the audience during a public celebration of the Jubilee Singers Grammy Award at Fisk University on Thursday April 8, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.  The Fisk Jubilee Singers won their first Grammy Award for Best Roots.  Gospel album in the 150 years of the group.

“Every time I met my students (last year) I would tell them, ‘Let’s keep moving forward with a focus on a brighter future,’ said Dr Paul Kwami, longtime music director of the band.

“Not knowing that we would win a Grammy, and not knowing that the museum would give us that award, and other things that haven’t happened yet. So for me, personally, I’m so happy.”

Kwami and Chaka Khan will attend tonight’s event in person, while Jones, Robinson and Richie will accept the honor from a distance.

Chaka Khan performs during the "Super Jam" at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on Saturday June 14 in Manchester, Tennessee John Partipilo / The Tennessean

Thursday’s ceremony kicks off a series of three-day museum events for Black Music Month as well as Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

On Friday, the museum is hosting its first “State of Black Music Summit,” with a comprehensive roster of industry panels and the museum’s annual report on the state of black music. On Saturday, a Juneteenth Block Party will be held on the roof of Fifth + Broadway.

“It’s great to have a place where people can come together and have a good time, listen, learn, browse a bit of history and do it the Nashville way,” said Hicks.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers perform at the 58th Annual State of the Subway Address at Music City Center on Thursday, April 29, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.

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