Museum ‘legends’ ceremony for black music artists before June 19

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 – taking place tonight at the Ryan Auditorium.

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

And there’s never been a more legendary honoree than this year’s, which includes true stalwarts of American music. Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan and Nashville’s own 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, leads a media tour Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.  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 inaugural year celebration of the actual opening of the museum,” said museum president and CEO H. Beecher Hicks III.

“We’re thrilled to be able to honor such an august group of people who are legends and will become legendary as things go forward. We’re really thrilled about that.”

The recognition of the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville comes as the vocal group celebrates its 150th anniversary – and after the challenges of the pandemic have placed many obstacles in their path. 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 speaks to the audience during a Jubilee Singers' Grammy Award public celebration at Fisk University on Thursday, April 8, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Fisk Jubilee Singers won their first Grammy Award for Best Roots Gospel Album in the group's 150 years.

“Every time I met with my students (last year) I said, ‘Let’s keep moving forward with our focus on a better future,'” said Dr. Paul Kwami, longtime music director of the group.

“Not knowing that we were going to 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 remotely.

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 observing Black Music Month as well as Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

On Friday, the museum hosts its first “State of Black Music Summit,” featuring a full list of industry panels and the museum’s annual State of Black Music Report. On Saturday, a Juneteenth Block Party will take place on the roof of Fifth + Broadway.

“It’s great to have a place where people can gather and have a good time, listen, learn, go through history and do it the Nashville way,” Hicks said.

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