by Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — The Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands completed a dream year Sunday, February 5, by taking two Grammy Awards at the 65th annual ceremonies in Los Angeles, making the band the first HBCU marching band to win multiple honors from the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences.
While Fisk University’s Fisk Jubilee Singers in 2021 were the first HBCU ensemble to win a Grammy award for their LP “Celebrating Fisk (The 150th Anniversary Album),” TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands took Grammys in various categories.
“The Urban Hymnal” won both the Best Roots Gospel Album award and in the collaboration on a spoken word single category for their joint effort with artist J. Ivy.
The “Urban Hymnal” was co-produced by songwriter/producer Dallas Austin, artist/songwriter/producer Sir the Baptist and TSU professor Larry Jenkins.
“These kids worked so hard,” Jenkins told Gannett Tennessee. “And to be honest with you guys, HBCUs are so grossly underfunded, to where I had to put my last dime in order to get us across the line. My cousin got us across the line, even when I gave all. We’re here with our pockets empty, but our hands aren’t! Your hard work and dedication created the pen that allowed you to write your own page in the history books,” he said of the band. “We all know we made history, but this is also February. We also made Black history,” Jenkins added.
Earlier last year, Tammy Kernodle, professor of music at Miami University had spoken to the Associated Press on the importance of Black and HBCU bands. “
“You went to the game not so much to see the football team as to see the band,” and the halftime show was “the moment where everything stopped,” said Kernodle, who attended Virginia State University.”
A large crowd gathered at a TSU watch party to monitor the activities, with their cheers and shouts later being shown in various recaps of the festivities.
Congratulations came from several prominent people and leaders as well as from TSU fans, supporters and university personnel. “
Nashville Mayor John Cooper also added his praise, saying via Twitter: “huge congratulations to @tsuaristocrats for winning a Grammy award tonight for Best Roots Gospel Album. An historic win for @TSUedu and all involved! #GRAMMYs.”
Two of the four HBCUs in Nashville now have Grammy Awards. No other city in the country can make that claim. And Nashville was nicknamed Music City because of the Jubilee Singers who traveled all over the world starting in the 19th Century to raise money for the university.
Jubilee Singers Director Dr. Paul T. Kwami was included in the memoriam to artists who had passed away in the last year during the televised program. And the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles had included an exhibit about the Jubilee Singers.
Prior to the Grammy celebration, the Aristocrat of Bands also participated in the HBCU All-Star Battle of the Bands in Atlanta, GA. The event held at Mercedes Benz Stadium is the largest marching band and dance exhibition in the world. The band presented a selection from the “Urban Hymnal” during its performance.
At the start of the year, the band was also featured at the 2023 Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. The “Urban Hymnal” is available on Apple, Spotify and other streaming services, and features 10 selections blending contemporary gospel with elements of R&B, hip-hop and jazz.