By Austin Newell
NASHVILLE, TN, — Sunday night saw the unveiling of the Living Legends: Dr. Bobby Jones exhibit at the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM). The event, which was invite-only, celebrated Dr. Jones’s achievements in gospel music.
The event began with an hour-long reception in which guests took to the red carpet inside of the lobby. Afterwards, invitees were welcomed into the venue’s auditorium where NMAAM President and CEO H. Beecher Hicks, III made remarks.
“Kirk Franklin once said that gospel music is not a sound, gospel music is a message. It means good news music. And this good news is all about testimonies and lived experiences. So tonight we celebrate the lived experience of one Dr. Bobby Jones,” he said.
Dr. Jones has had a wide-ranging impact on gospel music and on Black artists in general. The various television shows that he produced and hosted over the years helped skyrocket gospel music from a somewhat obscure genre to one recognized across the globe.
Melanie Robinson was a viewer of one of Dr. Jones’ shows. A friend of hers knew Dr. Jones from school, which is how she was introduced to him. She first started watching Dr. Jones in the 80s. “I’m not familiar with gospel music . . . it was like entertainment to me,” she said.
The wide-ranging appeal of Jones’s music attracted a large following and landed him several awards over his career, including a Grammy® for the song “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today,” which he won alongside co-vocalist Barbara Mandrell.
Now, Dr. Jones has one more award to add to his repertoire.
After Hicks’s introduction, Dr. Jones took the stage to be presented with a Presidential Lifetime Achievement award, signed by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
“I’m extremely pleased to be honored in this manner in my hometown of Nashville. Thank you so very much for this wonderful museum we have in our city,” Dr. Jones said after taking the stage. “I’m so proud to be a part of this wonderful museum.”
At the end of the event, the exhibit was unveiled: Four glass panels with various artifacts from Dr. Jones’s life behind them, symbolizing different points in his journey. Among them was a showcase of awards, including Dr. Jones’ Grammy.®
But alongside his various radio shows, awards, and TV programs, Dr. Jones has also spent a significant amount of time using his platform to uplift local Black artists. One such artist is Alysha Nesbitt, a singer for Nashville Opera. After winning a national singing competition over a year ago, Nesbitt not only saw herself presented with a scholarship by Dr. Jones, but was also invited on one of his shows. At one point, Dr. Jones even spoke about Nesbitt after a performance without her knowing prior that he was there.
“He spoke positive words about me before I even realized I had something at one of the biggest turning points in my life.”
Some might argue that after decades of hard work Dr. Jones deserves a comfortable retirement.
But at 84 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.