‘I was just overflowing with joy’: Fisk University Jubilee Singers win first Grammy Award

Tennessee 225

Jubilee's influence on preserving history

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Fisk University Jubilee Singers took home their first Grammy Award Sunday night.

They won Best Roots Gospel Album for Celebrating Fisk! (The 150th Anniversary Album).

News 2 spoke with Dr. Paul Kwami, Musical Director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who couldn’t be more proud of this historic moment.

“I had everything written down that I had planned to say, but the moment we were mentioned as the winners, I was lost for a moment, honestly, probably because of excitement. But I had to come back quickly to my position and realize that this is real. But I was just overflowing with joy. In fact, mixed feelings. I didn’t know whether to cry or shout.”

The Jubilees were formed in 1871 and introduced spiritual songs originally sung by slaves. They became instrumental in preserving this musical tradition. Now they now travel throughout the world.

“They traveled only because the founder and director of the ensemble believed that by traveling and singing, they will be able to raise funds to save the school when it was in financial difficulties. So as a result of that, they traveled around the United States, first of all, and were able to raise money that was used in the purchase of a land on which phase University currently stands.”

Kwami said the 150-year-old ensemble has done so much for the University, and this accomplishment has always been a dream of his.

“It’s been my desire to see Fisk Jubilee singers win a Grammy because we brought a lot of things to the American music. And therefore, I believed that it was time for us to win a Grammy and we did,” Kwami said with a smile.

Kwami said it took a lot of work to get to this point.

“I’m very thankful that in planning all of these concerts and all of the recordings, everything that went to it, there were people who were very willing to step up and help, we could not have done it on our own. I have been blessed to have worked and continue working with very wonderful and dedicated students.”

Kierra Pryor and Dwayne Mitchell are two of those dedicated students. Pryor first joined as an alternate back in 2013. She said being a part of the Jubilees requires a major passion for music.

“There was no greater experience that I’ve ever had in my entire life, even after undergrad. The level of work ethic that is required.. the level of heart.. the level of dedication is completely unmatched,” said Pryor.

Mitchell said he became a full member as a sophomore and being a part of the group is a duty.

“Not only do we have a great honor to carry this, the songs of our ancestors, but the history that comes along with it, and, you know, if we don’t do our job, then how will the world continue to understand, you know, the impact of this group.”

Mitchell and Pryor agreed becoming members have opened opportunities for them.

“I came to Fisk as a first-generation college student. So being a part of this group, and everything that it came with, really opened so many avenues even to this day,” said Mitchell proudly.

Pryor echoed, “I still find really interesting ways to include music in my life, and encourage younger people who are interested in ensembles in which they are able to use their gifts and their talents. I definitely want to encourage them to continue to use them. I utilize my talents at my church. And overall, I just will always have that appreciation for music for the rest of my life.”

And winning a Grammy will remain a surreal experience for both.

“I’m really excited for the future of what this means for you know, this, this ensemble and the legacy of this ensemble and our university,” said Mitchell.

“I was definitely in shock. Like, you know, to think back on all the work that we did for that performance. And even after recording over some things. It was..it was amazing. This group that originated based upon sacrifice, we’re able to now provide extra fruits of their labor and continue to educate people about the hard work they put in for our university that we love,” emphasized Pryor.

You can visit the Jubilee’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels here.

Tennessee 225: Dive into the history of the Volunteer State.

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