The band program at Tennessee State University in Nashville is often referred to as “A Band of Firsts.” Assistant Director of Bands Larry Jenkins explains that the band is the first HBCU band to perform during a presidential inauguration and on the White House lawn, the first HBCU band (the Jazz Collegians) to perform at the Midwest Clinic and now the first band to be nominated for both a GRAMMY® and an NAACP Image® Award in the same year. “We are proud to provide our students with one-of-a-kind experiences,” he exclaims. “And it looks like 2023 is shaping up to provide several more!”
The GRAMMY and NAACP nominations are for “The Urban Hymnal,” a collaboration between Jenkins and multi-disciplinary artist Sir the Baptist. “The concept — creating a new take on hymns by merging our band sounds with gospel and Black culture, ranging from hymns to hip-hop — was developed on a napkin at a Mexican restaurant in Nashville,” Jenkins says. “Sir and I wrote a plan outlining who we wanted to be featured and how we wanted to execute it. The sound of the TSU band would serve as the link between the music of our ancestors and the music of today.”
Sir the Baptist and music producer Dallas Austin came to TSU as part of the school’s Artist in Residency program, which provides students an insider’s point of view of the inner workings of the music industry. Jenkins says, “Through the expertise of Sir the Baptist and Dallas Austin, students learned a little bit of everything, from creating split sheets to licensing, sync and digital distribution.”
Jenkins takes his role as an HBCU professor seriously. “I am tasked with providing an educational experience that reaches beyond the musical notes and rhythms and dives into history, community and culture,” he says. “To go a step further, as an HBCU band director, I must make sure that our students are connected to the work of our pioneers and the proud traditions they left in place for us.”
TSU’s location in Nashville, “Music City USA,” is essential to Jenkins. “My ties to the city provides vital connections between students, the music industry and the community at large,” he says. “Through these connections, our students have garnered internships and performance opportunities. Also, it’s important for students to see me working in the field, which enhances the classroom experience.”
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