NASHVILLE (CelebrityAccess) – Dr. Paul Kwami, revered music director of the world-renowned, Grammy-winning Fisk Jubilee Singers for 28 years, died in a Nashville hospital on Saturday (September 10). His family confirmed the news of his death to The Tennessean. Kwami was 70.
“It is with deep and immeasurable sadness that we share the news of the passing of our beloved husband, father, brother, cousin, uncle, and friend, Dr. Paul Theophilus Kwami. His passing leaves a gaping hole in our souls as well as in our community and in our world,” the statement said.
“Dr. Kwami passed onto glory on Saturday, September 10th in the early morning hours surrounded by family in Nashville, Tennessee.”
During his tenure, Kwami led the Fisk Jubilee Singers – Founded in 1871, the touring group was the first to introduce “negro spirituals” to an international audience. Over a century later, Kwami took them to unscaled peaks.
In 2021, they won their first Grammy award for the Celebrating Fisk album, recorded at the Ryman Auditorium.
“Dr. Kwami was a real bridge for the Fisk Jubilee Singers from the past into the future,” said Nashville music producer Shannon Sanders. “Dr. Kwami was the bearer of the torch,” Sanders said. “He definitely held it high so Fisk Jubilee Singers might see their way.”
In an interview with The Tennessean last year, Kwami said his musical memories go back to when he was a 4-year-old boy growing up in a small mountain town in Ghana in West Africa.
His father, a farmer and a music teacher, lifted the boy onto his lap before playing piano in their home. The younger Kwami hummed along with the music and stared, enraptured, at his dad’s fingers flying across the keyboard.
After graduating, Kwami attended two years of teachers’ school before enrolling in the then-new four-year National Academy of Music in Ghana, where he stayed after graduation to teach.
A classmate encouraged Kwami to try out for the Jubilee Singers, but Kwami wasn’t going to Fisk to sing; he was going to be a better teacher and a better musician. The classmate kept encouraging him to apply, and when he found out the Jubilee Singers musical director was Ransom, Kwami showed for auditions.
After winning a spot in the ensemble, Kwami quickly learned of the Jubilee Singers history, importance to the university, importance to the world of music.
Nearly a decade after graduating from Fisk, Kwami returned to campus as musical director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1994. Kwami kept that title until he died.
Funeral arrangements will be announced “in coming days,” the family’s statement said.
Statement from the family of Dr. Paul T. Kwami on his passing:
“It is with deep and immeasurable sadness that we share the news of the passing of our beloved husband, father, brother, cousin, uncle and friend, Dr. Paul Theophilus Kwami. His passing leaves a gaping hole in our souls as well as in our community and in our world.
“Dr. Kwami passed onto glory on Saturday, September 10th in the early morning hours surrounded by family in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Dr. Kwami was a humble yet passionate child of God – exuding excellence, loyalty, a deep faith and an unmatched work ethic that he embodied as the Director of the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers for nearly 30 honorable and prosperous years.
“To know him was to love, respect and cherish him. A natural born mentor, he gave of himself freely to those he cared for and invested in the lives of many with a joyful heart.
“We are forever grateful for the community that surrounds us and for the outpouring of love and support that our family is being shown in this extremely difficult time.
“We thank you for honoring Dr. Paul T. Kwami’s life. May his legacy continue to live vastly on this Earth while he takes a deserved rest in his bright mansion in his Father’s house. Out of respect for the Kwami family, for the time being we ask that you please refrain from contacting family members as we process this unimaginable loss.”