The long-time music director of the award-winning Fisk Jubilee Singers passed away Saturday, September 10.
“With profound grief and heavy hearts, we deeply regret to inform of the passing Musical Director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers Dr. Paul T. Kwami,” said a statement from the university. “Dr. Kwami served as the musical director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1994 to 2022. During Dr. Kwami’s 28-year tenure, the Fisk Jubilee Singers received the highest musical honors, including a Grammy award, a Dove Award, a National Medal of the Arts, and an induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Dr. Kwami consistently directed performances in the world’s most prestigious venues including at Carnegie Hall, The Ryman Auditorium, The Apollo Theater, and The White House. His musical genius was towering, and his legacy will live forever.”
The family released the following statement:
“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 10, 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.
Dr. Kwami was born in Ghana, West Africa, one of seven children. His father, a musician, taught him piano, violin, theory and conducting. He studied music at Ghana’s National Academy of Music and taught there until immigrating to the U.S. in 1983 as a student at Fisk University. He promptly joined the Jubilee Singers.
After graduating from Fisk in 1985 he continued to study music at Western Michigan University. In 1994 he was solicited to serve as part-time director of the Jubilee Singers. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Kwami was promoted to full time faculty member in the music department and musical director of the Singers. He is the first African to direct the ensemble, and the first to hold the Curb-Beaman Chair position. He received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from the American Conservatory of Music.
Dr. Kwami said that he felt a deep connection between Negro spirituals and the music of his Motherland. “The music we sing today helps to bridge the gap between Africans and African Americans,” he said. “When my students sing, I am reminded of my life in Ghana and feel close to my past.”
Dr. Kwami said the music touched his spirit. He believed in the sovereignty of God, who was a source of faith, hope and love for slaves and for the original Jubilee Singers. “My greatest desire is to fulfill my call,” he said.