Bobby Karl Works The Room: Gospel Great Dr. Bobby Jones Honored At NMAAM
Nashville’s Dr. Bobby Jones is internationally known for his gospel-music leadership, which is reason enough to celebrate him, and now there’s another.
On Sunday evening (Jan. 15), the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) unveiled a new exhibit that underscores his legendary status. Four curated cases salute his educational accomplishments, entertainment awards, TV stardom and remarkable life.
An invitation-only crowd filled the museum’s lobby, where a sequin jacketed Jones mingled with the elegantly attired attendees. Howard Gentry, Jackie Patillo, Marcus K. Dowling, Porsha Green, Metro council rep and mayoral candidate Sharon Hurt and George W. Stewart, the head of the Alabama-based American Gospel Quartet Convention, topped a list of dignitaries that also included former New Life singers Francine Belcher, Angela Wright Primm and Nuana Dunlap.
We proceeded to the museum’s auditorium. “You look good: Give yourselves a hand,” said H. Beecher Hicks III in welcoming the capacity crowd. The museum’s CEO added, “Tonight we celebrate someone who opened the door for so many artists.
“Dr. Bobby Jones helped to create this place. He was on the board when no one thought this would ever happen.”
The event’s emcee was Darrell Drumwright, Jones’s pastor at Temple Church. He introduced video greetings from Robert L. Johnson of BET and from gospel star Hezekiah Walker. Next up were the 28 mighty voices of The Nashville Super Choir, who electrified the audience with “The Lord’s Prayer,” “(When We Get) Over There” and “O Happy Day.”
The White House sent a huge framed plaque to honor Jones with the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for 2023. “Dr. Jones brought gospel music into its own,” wrote President Joe Biden.
“I am extremely pleased to be honored in this manner in my hometown of Nashville,” said Jones. “I am so proud to be a part of this wonderful museum.”
He recalled his rural upbringing in Henry County. Jones came to Nashville at age 15 to attend Tennessee State University. He taught school in St. Louis before returning to Music City to earn a master’s degree at TSU, then a PhD at Vanderbilt. Attending First Street Baptist Church in North Nashville opened his eyes to gospel music.
In 1976, he launched a local gospel-music TV show on WSMV-TV. He parlayed this into national syndication on PBS. In 1980, he took Bobby Jones Gospel to BET, where it remained until 2015. This made him the longest lasting personality in the history of cable television, as well as the host of America’a only nationally telecast black-gospel program.
He earned a 1983 Grammy Award, four honors from the NAACP and a 1984 Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association. Jones and his group have recorded more than a dozen albums. All of this is reflected in his new museum exhibit.
Jones taught at TSU from 1972 to 1980, when he left to devote his full energies to BET. His top-rated, weekly show became the economic driver for the entire channel. He took his New Life singers on international tours and led them in collaborations with Barbara Mandrell, New Kids on the Block, Dolly Parton, Al Green, Charlie Daniels, Ricky Skaggs and other stars. He formed The Nashville Super Choir in 1997.
He shared with the audience that he underwent open-heart surgery two weeks ago at age 83. “I didn’t know if I was gonna make it here tonight, but look at God,” he said. “One thing we need to learn to do is respect and love one another.”
The Bobby Jones exhibit at NMAAM opens to the public on Tuesday (Jan. 17) and will remain on display until April 15. Next up at the museum is “This Is Hip-Hop,” a photography exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the style. It will open on Jan. 20.