Nashville remembers famed Fisk Jubilee Singers' music director Paul Kwami

Dr. Paul T. Kwami passing
Posted at 6:44 PM, Sep 12, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Much like his music, Paul Kwami made an impact on many.

"You can feel it. When you're around strong powers and strong people you can absolutely feel it," said Sharon Kay, general manager for WFSK Radio.

But for now, the music has gone quiet.

"It's a somberness that everyone feels right now," said Kay. "It's just — you can tell."

"We have lost an icon when we lost Dr. Kwami," said Lorenzo Washington, curator and founder of The Jefferson Street Sound Museum,

The music director died on Saturday. Kwami was 70.

"Professor Gwen Brown called me. I could barely hear. But I was able to hear enough that he said Dr. Kwami passed this morning. I'm like 'oh wow,'" said Gary Nash. Fisk University professor of music and interim music department chair.

Kwami was born in West Africa where he developed a love for music — a love that took him all the way to Fisk University.

"He was not only the director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, but he was a student at Fisk, and he was a part of the Fisk Jubilee Singers," said Washington.

He returned to the university 10 years later, eventually leading the famed acapella group.

"He loved the spirituals from Africa and from the U.S.," Washington said.

The group saw great success under his watch, earning a National Medal of Arts and a Grammy award in 2021. The group was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

"Now you know you've got some talent when you can make children who just left mom and dad's house sing to absolute perfection," said Kay. "I don't know anyone who can do it quite like that."

Now that Kwami is gone, some said his legacy will live on in his students. It can also be felt through the "negro spirituals" he dedicated his life to.

"He blessed the lives of so many people," said Kay. "That music blesses people's lives."