NMAAM President & CEO, H. Beecher Hicks III, Chrissy Walter, daughter of Dr. George Clinton, Gloria Gaynor, Doug E. Fresh and NMAAM Director of Marketing and Communications, Dionne Lucas. Photo courtesy of NMAAM

By Sheri Tyler Kimble

NASHVILLE, TN — The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) concluded Black Music Month with its sixth Annual “A Celebration of Legends Gala” last Thursday at the Music Center City in Nashville, Tennessee. The 2019 Rhapsody & Rhythm Awards honorees were Gloria Gaynor, Doug E. Fresh, and Dr. George Clinton.

A special award was given to Vanderbilt University. University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos announced the university’s pledge of foundational support of $2 million in in-kind contributions and direct financial support. This will expand the museum’s archival collection, contribute to innovative programming, and support the facility’s completion.

The night’s most poignant moment was Zeppos’ introduction of  a video of his friend and colleague, David Williams II, the school’s late Vice Chancellor for University Affairs and Athletics and Athletic Director. Williams was an early advocate and served as co-chair of the museum’s campaign steering committee.  Zeppos stated Vanderbilt’s relationship with the National Museum of African American Music began several years ago, but the ties were strengthened by Williams.  Williams, a Detroit native, was passionate about Motown and R&B, and taught classes on the subject at Vanderbilt.  NMAAM made a special presentation to his wife Gail Williams and their four children.

There were musical tributes to each honoree before they received their award.  Avery Sunshine sang Gaynor’s legendary 1978 hit. “I Will Survive,” which has become an international anthem of perseverance.  Earlier host and Grammy winning producer Shannon Sanders reminded the audience Gaynor recorded the song shortly after suffering an onstage accident that left her temporarily paralyzed.  Gaynor’s newly released gospel album, “Testimony” was recorded and produced in Nashville.

Honoree Doug E. Fresh joined the Stanley Brown Band and DJ Mars on stage during their tribute to him, showing he had not lost a beat.  Past Honoree Keb Mo presented the award. Doug E. Fresh described how the human beatbox started. He dreamed of being a drummer, but his middle school dropped their music program.  Fresh wore a black t-shirt with James Brown’s image.  The shirt was given to him by Mr. Brown’s daughter. He also spoke about the importance of recognizing predecessors and training emerging newcomers.

Dr. George Clinton was unable to attend, and his award was accepted by his daughter, Chrissy Walter. Clinton addressed and thanked the audience via video recording. NMAAM President & CEO, H. Beecher Hicks III, spoke of his affection for Clinton’s music, and recalled courting his wife during that time.  The museum’s tagline, “One Nation under a Groove” is taken from Clinton’s hit song by the same name. Clinton’s final tour with Parliament/Funkadelic, Galactic and more is scheduled to land the Mothership at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium Friday July 26.  The program ended with a performance by Louis York and the Shindellas.