Nashville, TN — There was a spirit that filled the Ryman Auditorium at the National Museum of African American Music’s (NMAAM) 2021 Celebration of Legends Benefit Concert where Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan and the Fisk Jubilee Singers were honored with the Rhapsody and Rhythm Award.

“We find it amazing that we have the opportunity to gather and give awards and homage to those who have paved the way and created such rich content in music and opportunities for others,” NMAAM’s Vice President of Brand and Partnerships Tuwisha Rogers-Simpson described. “We’re looking for those living legends, those legacies that contribute so much to culture and music.” 

Khan was honored with stellar tribute performances by Syleena Johnson, Avery Sunshine, Ruby Amanfu and more, including a show-stopping, all-female rendition of “I’m Every Woman.” “This award goes not just to myself, but so many women who went before me,” Khan said from the stage, referencing Whitney Houston and Billie Holiday. “This award goes to them, my sisters on this planet and in this field. I’ve had a beautiful career so far and I’m not finished yet.” Musical Director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers Paul Kwami dedicated the award to all the people who were taken from West Africa, particularly his native Ghana, and brought to America. “This coming from the National Museum of African American Music is like a younger sibling in a family looking at the older ones and saying ‘thank you for presenting this legacy. Thank you for never giving up,’” Kwami professed.  “We will continue working together, presenting and educating people so they come to know more about the wonderful music that African Americans give to the world.”

Syleena Johnson, Ruby Amanfu, Shelea, Tweet and Avery Sunshine pay tribute to Chaka Khan at NMAAM’s 2021 Celebrations of Legends Benefit Concert. Photo courtesy of NMAAM/353 Media Group

Kwami’s niece Amanfu, who delivered a stunning rendition of “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me” alongside a televised recording of the Jubilee Singers, cited the evening as a moment of “education.” “I think we should live to learn,” Amanfu said. “Even as songwriters, we’re making new music, but we know that there are roots there, so I think hopefully educating people on the foundation and why we’re here and who has come before us to put us in this position.”

“I think it is taking the time to be intentionally conscious about what was built, how it was built, the things that our ancestors had to go through in order for us to be on this red carpet,” Kasi Jones of The Shindellas remarked of Black Music Month. “Thinking about the contributions from West Africa to the cotton fields all the way to now, the legacy is so immaculate. It runs deep.” 

“I think it’s so important to have a museum like this in Nashville because Nashville is known as a Music City, and you really can’t tell the complete story without including Black music,” said Prana Supreme Diggs of mother-daughter country act, ONE the DUO. ”It’s very important because it helps show that country music, and music in general, is a beautiful tapestry of a whole bunch of different people coming together.”

The event was as much a celebration of NMAAM’s mission of preserving and celebrating the story of Black music and its impact on culture, continuing the newborn legacy of this world class institution. “We want the museum to be a place where everyone can come not only see and celebrate, but also learn, to have a place of venue where they can engage and intersect and have these types of conversations,” Rogers-Simpson said. “There’s too many artists to celebrate. We’ll never run out.”