The National Museum of African American Music's annual "Celebration of Legends" has always lived up to its name, but perhaps never more so than with this year's event.
There's plenty of cause for celebration: This is the first major concert the museum has put on since opening its doors in Nashville this past January, following 20-plus years of development.
And there's never been a more legendary class of honorees than this year's, which includes some true pillars of American music. Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan and the Fisk Jubilee Singers will each be given the museum's "Rhapsody and Rhythm" award.
"I think (the honorees) wanted to be a part of celebrating the inaugural year of the museum actually being open," said museum president and CEO H. Beecher Hicks III.
"We're pleased to be able to honor such an august group of folks who are legends, and who will become legendary as things continue to unfold. We're really delighted with that."
The recognition for Nashville's Fisk Jubilee Singers comes as the vocal group celebrates its 150th anniversary — and after the challenges of the pandemic placed numerous hurdles in their path. Earlier this year, the group won its first-ever Grammy Award for its live album "Celebrating Fisk!"
"Whenever I met with my students (last year), I told them, 'Let's keep going forward with focus on a brighter future," said Dr. Paul Kwami, the group's longtime musical director.
"Not knowing that we would be winning a Grammy, and not knowing that the museum would be giving us this award, and other things that are yet to happen. So for me, personally, I am just so happy."
Kwami and Chaka Khan will be attending tonight's event in person, while Jones, Robinson and Richie will accept the honor remotely.
Thursday's ceremony kicks off a three-day stretch of museum events observing Black Music Month as well as Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.
On Friday, the museum holds its inaugural "State of Black Music Summit," with a full slate of industry panels and the museum's annual State of Black Music Report. On Saturday, a Juneteenth Block Party will be held on the rooftop of Fifth + Broadway.
"It's great to have a place where folks can gather and have a good time, listen, learn, go through some history and do it the Nashville way," said Hicks.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Juneteenth 'Legends' ceremony celebrates Black music artists