You can’t talk about Nashville’s history without mentioning the Fisk Jubilee Singers. For those who don’t know we’ll give you a brief synopsis. As the 1800s unfolded, Nashville grew to become a national center for music publishing. The first around-the-world tour by a musical act was by the Fisk Jubilee Singersfrom Nashville’s Fisk University when they performed for the Queen of England. Their efforts helped fund the school’s mission of educating freed slaves after the Civil War – and also put Nashville on the map as a global music center.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers continue to travel the world, singing the Negro spiritual, and represent Nashville’s Fisk University. Today, their leader is none other than Paul T. Kwami, the Musical Director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and our next Nashville Rockstar. He was born in Ghana, West Africa one of seven children. At an early age his father taught him many instruments along with musical theory & conducting. He studied music at Ghana’s National Academy of Music and by 1983 traveled to Nashville to become a student at Fisk University where he joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers. After graduation he continued his education at Western Michigan University and graduated with a Master of Music. By 1994, he is selected to serve as part-time director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. By the next fall, they made it permanent, making Paul T. Kwami the first African to direct the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
Since 1994, the Fisk Jubilee Singers have progressed to new heights under the leadership of Musical Director Dr. Paul T. Kwami. That includes their inductions into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000, a Grammy nomination, and a Dove Award for Poor Man Lazarus on the 2002 CD, In Bright Mansions. Also, during his tenure the Fisk Jubilee Singers have received the honors of being inducted into the Music City Walk of Fame, the Governor’s Folklife Heritage Award, and the Recording Academy Honors.
Besides just helping the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Paul T. Kwami has helped the country through musical education. To name a few things he has collaborated with the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center to produce educational programs. His conducted workshops, master-classes, and lecture recitals to hundreds of students. One of his biggest accomplishments was his collaboration with the Tennessee Arts Commission in presenting the Fisk Jubilee Singers in Tenneessee’s major performing venues like the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The partnership resulted in a first-class education curriculum which aimed to preserve African American spirituals and was distributed throughout schools in Tennessee. This led to Paul T. Kwami and the Fisk Jubilee Singers being awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2008 by President George W. Bush.
Of course, there’s plenty more to say about what Paul T. Kwami has done over the years. His story, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ story, is an inspiration. Something we, as Nashvillians, should be very proud of. The good news is the story is not done. Meaning there’s plenty more music to come. In fact, you can see the Fisk Jubilee Singers along with musical director Paul T. Kwami April 9 when they perform the Ryman Auditorium in honor of the University’s 150th Anniversary. Should be an absolutely historic night for the venue and ensemble. (Tickets are still available: ryman.com.)