Tag Archives: Music Department

Billboard recognizes TSU’s Commercial Music program as one of the best in the world

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University is now home to one of the top music business programs in the world. The October 7 issue of Billboard Magazine highlighted over 25 internationally acclaimed music business programs, including TSU, as one of the 2023 Top Music Business Schools.

TSU’s students are pictured with Tennessee native singer and actress CoCo Jones along with Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, co-founder and chair of the Black Music Action Coalition, and Def Jam Recording executives during a session of the music accelerator program held in May. (Photo courtesy 353 Media Group)

“This is a major milestone,” said Dr. Mark Crawford, who serves as coordinator of TSU’s commercial music program. “Not every HBCU has this program to begin with. This recognition puts us on the global stage.”

Dr. Crawford expressed his excitement for what he believes is a remarkable achievement and recognition that will open doors to new opportunities for students. This is in the form of internships and career opportunities.

Sophomore Honoria Hodges is already reaping the benefits of the program. Hodges is currently a TSU Meistersingers and said what she is learning from the program, in addition to her talent, will set her up to become an R&B/ pop artist.

“It is wonderful that we received this recognition,” Hodges said. “This will get all our names (students) out there to get what we want out of our careers. And my experience so far at TSU has been very enlightening.” 

Honoria Hodges

In May, TSU offered students the music business accelerator program, a 4-week course in partnership with the Black Music Action Coalition. Students got a chance to collaborate with industry giants such as Wasserman Music, Amazon Music, Nashville Music Equality, the RIAA, Live Nation, and more. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity gave them access to internships and employment. Notable guest speakers included producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, BET and NAACP award-winning music artist CoCo Jones, rapper Waka Flocka, and others who provided valuable industry insights.

TSU alumnus Jonathan Boddie said it is unique opportunities like the accelerator program that sets the program a part. Boddie is a Nashville native and professional musician who graduated from the commercial music program in 2010.

Dr. Mark Crawford

“I think this is well deserved,” Boddie said in response to the recognition, especially noting that the university is in the heart of ‘Music City.’ “I want to raise awareness that we have one of the top programs, and we can also get people to invest into the school.”

As a professional musician, Boddie has had a residency overseas, and even lived in Korea for six months to pursue his musical career. Boddie shared that the TSU commercial program and Dr. Crawford have had the greatest impact on his career.

“Dr. Crawford has never stopped looking out for us. He is always going the extra mile to give you more opportunities and I cannot say that about any other institution I have been a part of,” Boddie said.

Jonathan Boddie performs with Blue Masala Band during a concert held at Red Caboose Park in Bellevue, TN.

“The professors really do care even beyond graduation and I appreciate that.”

TSU alumni of the commercial music program include Harry Fox Agency client solutions coordinator Dashawn Howard and two-time Grammy-nominated producer Dwane “Key Wane” Wier, II.

“I hope we will continue to build on this kind of momentum,” Crawford added. “Recognition by Billboard and other professional entities will lead to curiosity. This will create additional opportunities.”

TSU makes the list as one of the two HBCUs, alongside Howard University. The prestigious recognition from Billboard comes as the program prepares to celebrate 25 years of educating students.

Dr. Samantha Morgan-Curtis, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said the honor to the 25-year program is well earned, and well overdue. 

“I was ecstatic because I know how hard everyone works,” Morgan-Curtis said, referring to the department’s faculty, and especially chair Dr. Robert Elliot, and Dr. Crawford for ensuring the students have “access to real world applications.”

Commercial music alumni practicing for the upcoming ensemble event at TSU. From left to right, Jonathan Boddie on the guitar, drum player Jameel Aziz, and bass player Maurice Farmer.

“Our students are getting these paid internships that are allowing them to do not only what they are being trained in, but what they love,” she said.

To celebrate the anniversary, the University will host a Commercial Ensemble Showcase November 13-15 at the Cox Lewis Theater inside the Performing Arts Center. Showtime is 7 p.m. each night and is free and open to the public. Traditionally a two-night event, an extra night was added to mark this significant milestone, featuring an alumni commercial ensemble as well as a faculty ensemble.

As TSU’s commercial music program continues to shine on the global stage, Crawford, who has overseen the program since the inception, is confident that faculty will help to foster the next generation of performers, producers, songwriters, and industry leaders.

Check out Billboard’s latest issue recognizing TSU here.

TSU music business program a pipeline for young Black music creatives

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Imagine a classroom where aspiring music creatives gather to discuss business strategies and receive firsthand experiences from top music industry insiders. This is the reality for students enrolled in Tennessee State University’s Music Business Accelerator Program (MBAP). Going beyond just an academic experience, the MBAP is paving the way for the next generation of young Black music creatives, while combating economic disparities within the music industry.

Rapper Waka Flocka Flame speaking with TSU Music Business Accelerator program students at East Iris Studios in Nashville. (Photo courtesy 353 Media Group)

The university partnered with the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC) to address underserved markets and provide firsthand resources and representation for Black commercial music students like no other. The MBAP’s second cohort left TSU students with a glimpse of their future careers after being exposed to insight from powerhouse executives, talent agencies, and top music artists.

TSU student Joshua “LilCEOJosh” Akhidenor said he never imagined shaking hands with his favorite Grammy award-winning music producer of all time, Rodney Jerkins. “This class was perfect for my career as a music producer and artist because it deeply taught me the music industry and the importance of knowing the business,” Akhidenor, of Memphis, said.

TSU student, artist Emmanuel “Mille Manny” Strickland performing at Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville before Waka Flocka Flame. (Photo courtesy 353 Media Group)

While TSU student, artist Emmanuel “Mille Manny” Strickland had the opportunity of an opening performance for rapper Waka Flocka Flame at Brooklyn Bowl after winning an Music Business Accelerator class competition. The rapper told the students during class at East Iris Studios, that these opportunities are preparing them to step into the music industry. “Having this conversation is a peek into your potential future,” Waka Flocka Flame said.

TSU music business students spent the last four weeks with representatives from Tri-Star Entertainment Agency, Live Nation Entertainment, Rolling Loud, Wasserman Media Group, Def Jam Recordings, Amazon Music, Warner Bros., and more. TSU students had the opportunity to discuss marketing, record label deals, artists and repertoire, and financial literacy with music industry insiders.

TSU student D’rell Player, who aspires to become a producer and audio engineer, at East Iris recording studio. (Photo courtesy 353 Media Group)

Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, the co-founder and chair of the Black Music Action Coalition, said the TSU program has led students to employment and paid internships, and will continue to do so going forward. “We are really creating a pipeline for success in a tangible way,” Stiggers said. “Our goal is to create access and an opportunity for talent to be nurtured here (Nashville), stay, and grow a career here.”

Stiggers expressed how deliberate Nashville and Music Row have been in “isolating the Black creative community and the Black audience from this experience,” he said. “So, we were looking for ways to break down those barriers.”

D’rell Player, a TSU senior who is a commercial music major, said being in the studio with Waka Flocka Flame, felt like home. “This class has managed to put me in a work environment that I want to be in,” Player said. “It’s given me more lessons, experience, and exposure in my chosen career field than I ever could have imagined.”

Link Fisher III speaks with Amazon Music representatives during week three of the music business accelerator program. (Photo courtesy 353 Media Group)

TSU senior Link Fisher III couldn’t agree more. Fisher, of Memphis, noted that discussing financial literacy with representatives from Live Nation was the highlight of the course. “This opportunity has made everything I have learned applicable to real life,” Fisher said. “That was the first time we sat down with a spreadsheet to see where the dollars go.”

The last day of the class concluded at the National Museum of African American Music with an All-star panel that consisted of Stiggers, BMG music company executive Tim Reid, Producer and songwriter Rodney Jerkins, Rapper Yellopain, actresses and artists Serayah and Bre-Z, SiriusXM’s media personality Swaggysie, and artist Daisha McBride.

Left to right, TSU students Matthew Lester, Tai Lomax and Brandon Allen at the National Museum of African American Music for a closing reception panel for the music business program. (Photo courtesy 353 Media Group)

Actress and singer Serayah, widely known for her role on the musical drama TV series Empire, told the students to dream big and to keep going. “It’s important to push this program because it means so much,” Serayah said. “It can build us in unity, with our talent, we can really put the purpose together.”

The next generation of music creatives then received plaques from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to close out their Maymester course.

TSU alumnus Brian Sexton, the Community Outreach Chair for Nashville Music Equality, said that in order to make significant contributions to the industry’s economic landscape, Black creatives must have these resources, access, and educational opportunities. “We are heavily investing in our young creatives, and they are getting the support they need at every level,” Sexton said.

Actress and singer Serayah, left, taking a photo with TSU student Logyn Rylander during the closing reception at the National Museum of African American Music. (Photo courtesy 353 Media Group)

“Our model in Nashville is the only model that puts students in a very high networking experience, high-level knowledge-based environment,” he said. “The access that takes literally a career to get to, these students had that access within one month.”

Music is deeply rooted in African American culture and has played a significant role in shaping music history. By offering classes like TSU’s Music Business Accelerator Program at HBCUs, the impact can be multifaceted and everlasting for young Black music artists and creatives.

For more information about the music business accelerator program, reach Dr. Crawford at [email protected].

About the Black Music Action Coalition

BMAC is an advocacy organization formed to address systemic racism within the music business. The Coalition advocates on behalf of Black artists, songwriters, producers, managers, agents, executives, lawyers, and other passionate industry professionals.

TSU music business program gives students access to industry executives and artists

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – In the first week of the music business accelerator program at Tennessee State University, the class is already exposing students to powerhouse executives, talent agencies, and music artists. Through this firsthand experience, TSU students are gaining valuable insight into the music industry.

Students erupted in applause when High Standardz/Def Jam Recordings artist and actress CoCo Jones walked into the room. Jones gained recognition after her leading role in the 2012 Disney Channel movie “Let It Shine.” She currently portrays Hilary Banks in “Bel-Air,” Peacock’s modern take on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” She has also released her major label debut album last year, titled “What I Didn’t Tell You.” 

Music artist CoCo Jones speaks with TSU students about her upbringing in Tennessee and becoming an artist. (Photo by 353mediagroup)

The Lebanon, Tennessee native told students she was excited to share her music journey and to spread knowledge as a young Black artist and actress.

“It’s important to have classes like these because there’s so much opportunity in music that doesn’t stem from just being a rapper or a singer,” Jones said.

“I want to shed some light and share information that’s helpful for the next young Black person trying to make it in this industry.”

Jones shared stories of her upbringing in Lebanon and jump-starting her career in the music industry. She discussed navigating the ever-changing landscape of the business and staying faithful throughout her journey. The students were enthused by Jones’ insights and wisdom, and eagerly asked her questions.

“This has been phenomenal,” said Logyn Rylander, a music business major from Philadelphia. “It’s everything I could ever ask for in a class. I’m talking to people who do what I want to do.” Rylander looks forward to going into artist development after graduation this fall. “I had a small taste of my career.”

Students discussing a brand marketing plan during their music business class. (Photo courtesy Tennessee State University)

In addition to meeting with Jones, TSU students  participated  in interactive class activities with Jones’ manager, Lydia Asrat, Def Jam’s Vice President Naim McNair, Vice President of marketing Charlene Thomas, and Willie “Prophet” Stiggers with the Black Music Action Coalition.

Emmanuel “Mille Manny” Strickland of Memphis said the music business class has been an eye-opener. “The things we are learning are things I am going to need to know in my day-to-day career as an R&B artist.” Strickland is a junior studying business information systems and is pursuing a career as a singer and songwriter.

Jamea Kollie asking CoCo Jones a question about music collaborations. (Photo courtesy Tennessee State University)

Strickland’s cohorts are just as impressed with the overall program. They will also spend time with representatives from Tri-Star Entertainment Agency, Live Nation Entertainment, Rolling Loud, Wasserman Media Group, and Def Jam Recordings. The group is also exposed to different facets of the music and entertainment industry every day during their Maymester class. 

Jamea Kollie, a sophomore from Detroit studying mass communications, was a part of the music class’s first cohort in 2022 and said she will cherish the connections she made. “It was amazing last year. I met so many people who so happened to look like me as well and represent the Black community,” Kollie said. “These powerhouses of the industry are being such advocates; that’s very inspirational.”

From left to right; students Joshua Akhidenor, Emmanuel Strickland, and Link Fisher listening to Def Jam executives speak about the music industry. (Photo courtesy Tennessee State University)

Dr. Mark Crawford, the coordinator of commercial music for the university, said the goal is getting exposure and more opportunities for students at HBCUs. “As an educator, this means a lot,” Crawford said. “They are meeting professionals, visiting these places, and understanding the business of music. One goal is to try to provide internship opportunities for underrepresented demographics and HBCUs,” he said.

From discussing marketing to record label deals to artists and repertoire, the students are developing a deep appreciation for the art of music and the business behind it. “This is like the answer to an unspoken prayer; this is exactly what we need for the students,” Crawford said.

For more information about the music business accelerator program, reach Dr. Crawford at [email protected].

TSU Band Director receives TMEA Outstanding University Music Educator of the Year award

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University’s Grammy-award winning Aristocrat of Bands Director, Dr. Reginald McDonald, has achieved yet another first. McDonald is a recipient of the Tennessee Music Education Association (TMEA) award for Outstanding University Music Educator of the Year. McDonald, who is also a tenured associate professor in the music department, is the first music professor at the university to receive this award.

“Anytime you win something of this magnitude, it is a huge honor and confirmation in regard to you as a teacher,” McDonald said. “This is confirmation that hard work pays off. Not for me, but for my students.”

The TMEA is a voluntary, non-profit organization representing all phases of music education at all school levels in the state. McDonald has been teaching music for more than 30 years.

As an experienced and committed teacher, over the years McDonald’s objective and expectations for his students has stayed the same. “My objective is to teach individual life coping skills and to develop the highest level of musicians.” He noted that life coping skills is his main priority due to teaching K-12 grades his entire career to minority students.

McDonald said his main goal for his students is to help development thick skin, a strong mind and to dream big. “My goal for them is to be able to accept the challenges of life and not run away from them.”

He has won teacher of the year five times throughout his career, including three awards from TSU. He has been a part of the TMEA since 2001 and was nominated to be the award recipient this month.

“Out of all the music professors in the state, I was chosen. I am honored and shocked,” he said. The award was not just a recognition of McDonald’s past achievements, but a reminder to him of the responsibility to continue being an outstanding music educator for years to come.

About TMEA

The Tennessee Music Education Association was officially formed in 1945 as a voluntary, non-profit organization representing all phases of music education at all school levels. The mission of TMEA is to promote the advancement of high-quality music education for all.

A Dream Come True as TSU Choral Group Prepares for Performance of a Lifetime at Carnegie Hall 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – It’s a singers dream to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City in front of thousands. For the TSU Meistersingers, it was on their Christmas wish list – a once in a lifetime experience that has come to fruition sooner than expected. 

Next May, for the first time ever, 11 members of the TSU Meistersingers are set to participate in a festival performance with MidAmerican Productions at Carnegie Hall. 

The premier chamber choral ensemble is raising $20,000 to make the trip of a lifetime to perform with professional orchestras. 

Dr. Dunsavage left, and a few of TSU Meistersingers students after a performance at the McKendree United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville.

TSU senior Dominic Davidson, who is a voice major, says he looks forward to the choir raising the funds to be able to participate in a life changing experience. “I have actually always dreamed of performing at Carnegie Hall ever since I was a child,” Davidson of Hendersonville, says. “As a choir, we have always wanted this kind of opportunity. We love singing, we love music, and we love the power that singing gives us and brings to others.” The tenor singer says performing at Carnegie Hall will give him a new level of confidence and a greater appreciation for his gift of singing. 

Marla Lowery of Knoxville says she was in disbelief when they received the news about the performing. Lowery, a sophomore studying political sciences, says she has never performed in front of a crowd of thousands. “It will be great to network with other schools and to see how orchestras practice up until the actual performance day. This will be exciting,” Lowery, says. The alto singer has been hitting notes since elementary school and looks forward to showing off her vocal skills in New York. 

Rhameek Nelson, a senior music education major, says this experience will be an opportunity to better his education and bring exposure to HBCUs. “TSU has never done anything like this before,” Nelson says. “This will take our choir to the next level. The experience will show that … people who look just like me will have the same opportunity here at TSU. I chose TSU, and now they chose me to travel and perform to Carnegie Hall … this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Nelson of Georgia. 

TSU Meistersingers during their last performance of the Fall semester.

Director of Choral Activities, Dr. Angelica Dunsavage, says she is just as excited as this will also be her first time performing at Carnegie Hall.  

“To be able to do a work, especially with a professional orchestra on the stage of Carnegie Hall is going to be a really amazing experience for the students,” Dunsavage says. 

“We would like the community’s help to be able to get us there.” 

So far, the choir has raised $3,500 by performing at cooperate and church events, along with small fundraisers on campus. Dunsavage says this experience will open doors to endless possibilities for the students and their careers.  

The $20,000 will cover airfare, housing and participation for the Carnegie Hall performance. The students are slated to stay in New York for the event May 10-14, 2023. 

See the TSU Meistersingers’ final performance of the semester at TSU Meistersingers – Fall 2022 (vimeo.com)

If you are interested in making a donation or would like to sponsor a student, please visit Meistersingers Fund (tnstate.edu). For more information contact Dr. Dunsavage at [email protected]

Former TSU Band Member Makes History, Shares Stage with Beyoncé at Coachella

The Coachella Valley Music Festival may have been thousands of miles away from Tennessee State University and Nashville, but that didn’t stop the influence of the Aristocrat of Bands and the cultural sounds of the HBCU band experience from taking center stage at the event on Saturday night.

When mega superstar Beyoncé took the stage, former Tennessee State University band member Michael Jones performed with her as she made history as the first African American woman to headline the musical event. Jones was a part of the band and drumline that provided music for Beyoncé, in what many are calling an iconic performance.

Jones, a Florida native, along with musicians from other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), including Tennessee State University, Florida A&M University, Alabama State University, Prairie View A&M University, Hampton University, North Carolina A&T State University, Norfolk State University, Bethune-Cookman University, University of Georgia and Kennesaw State University, backed the Grammy Award-winning performer during her nearly two hour performance, which included a reunion performance with Destiny ‘s Child band mates Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland.

TSU Alum Mike Jones plays sousaphone as a member of DRUMline Live, an international tour based on the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) marching band tradition. Jones along with other members of DRUMline Live performed with Beyoncé at Coachella 2018 on Saturday. (submitted photo)

“This is tremendous exposure for our university and the other HBCUs that had band members perform with Ms. Knowles,” said TSU President Glenda Glover. “Our institutions have a rich history and legacy that many may not be familiar with, but a performance highlighting our cultural presence, with someone the stature of Beyoncé, creates an incredible buzz and interest. We are thankful for her knowledge of our contributions to the fabric of education and the scholarship program she has established specifically for HBCUs.”

The singer’s website issued the release to announce the four schools to receive the newly established Homecoming Scholars Award Program for the 2018-2019 academic year, through her BeyGOOD initiative. The universities include Xavier University, Wilberforce University, Tuskegee University and Bethune-Cookman College. One winner from each school will receive $25,000 for the 2018-2019 academic year for study in various fields. This is the second year for the scholars program created by Ms. Knowles.

Beyoncé’s historic show was the first time the 36-year-old had performed on stage in over a year.  According to a press release on her website, the set was “a celebration of the homecoming weekend experience, the highest display of college pride. The energy-filled production put the spotlight on art and culture, mixing the ancient and the modern, which resonated masterfully through the marching band, performance art, choir and dance.”

Reginald McDonald, TSU associate professor of Music Education and director of Bands, said he was thrilled to see the HBCU band experience shared at Coachella and around the world.

“As an HBCU band director, it is thrilling and exciting to witness our performance style influence pop culture,” he said.  “The admiration and excitement for HBCU bands extend far beyond a football game halftime.”

He cited the TSU Aristocrat of Bands performance at the White House, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Honda Battle of the Bands and their 2016 performance with Cedric The Entertainer as examples of performances that still garner positive feedback.

Founded in 1999, Coachella is one of the largest, and most profitable music festivals in the world.  It features a mix of popular and established artists with emerging artists from genres of music including pop, rock, indie, hip hop and electronic dance music.

Jones looks to continue his musical odyssey with the iconic superstar as a member of the sousaphones section. A second Coachella performance is scheduled for this weekend.

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 25 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

TSU Grad Student Seeks Top Spot at Historic Apollo Theater Amateur Night

Darius Salazar, a graduate music student at Tennessee State University, will perform at Amateur Night at the Apollo, September 17 and attempt to become the "Super Top Dog." (photo by John Cross, TSU Media Relations)
Darius Salazar, a graduate music student at Tennessee State University, will perform at Amateur Night at the Apollo, September 17 and attempt to become the “Super Top Dog.” (photo by John Cross, TSU Media Relations)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – A graduate music student at Tennessee State University is going to see if he has what it takes to be “Top Dog” when he takes his musical talents to New York and the Apollo Theater.

Darius Salazar, a Chicago native pursuing his graduate work in Music Education, will perform at Amateur Night at the Apollo, Wednesday, Sept. 17 in hopes of making it through four rounds of competition all the way to the Super Top Dog competition in late November. If he makes it that far, he has a shot at the $10,000 cash prize.

“I was very surprised when I was asked to take part in the competition,” said Salazar. “No matter what happens, I think this opportunity can open new musical doors for me.”

A recruiter for the show approached Salazar when he was rehearsing this past summer with the 105 Voices of History All HBCU Jazz Band prior to their performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The recruiter was in the audience and introduced himself to Salazar, and invited him to the competition.

Salazar knows the Apollo is the place where many careers are started and can’t wait for his opportunity on stage. Just the invite, he said, is special.

“It really surprised me, and left me speechless,” added Salazar. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime not many people get.”

Salazar will have three minutes to grab the attention of the notoriously raucous audience at the Harlem Theater. He recently found out he is the first electric bass guitarist to take to the stage, and will perform a selection from Stevie Wonder, another musician whose career was launched at the theater.

With so much at stake, Salazar isn’t taking any chances. He is practicing long hours every day, trying to implement his own style on Stevie Wonder’s Billboard Hot 100 hit, As.

“It’s a great song to perform as an instrumental,” said Salazar. “The odds are pretty tough but I’m going to give it my best.”

Someone who knows about his “best” musical talent is Dr. Robert Elliott, chair of the Music Department, who not only is a bass player like Salazar, but also gave him private lessons for four years during his undergraduate studies at the University.

“Darius is a very talented and gifted musician,” said Elliott. “We are very pleased about his selection and excited about him moving on to the next phase of his musical career.”

No matter what the outcome, Salazar is just happy to showcase his musical talents and represent Tennessee State University.

“This will definitely make my career better and I am honored to be on such a historic show,” he added. “I am just pleased to show what I have.”

Amateur Night at the Apollo celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2009, serving as the model for Star Search and American Idol. When Amateur Night at the Apollo debuted in 1934, it quickly became the leading showcase for many young, talented, new performers such as a 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald, who went on to become one of the first Amateur Night winners.

Today, competitions are held nearly every Wednesday evening throughout the year, culminating with the “Super Top Dog” competition. The show marries world-class talent with a distinctive, vaudeville-like atmosphere, and has depended on audience participation since the very beginning. The popularity contest has proven an effective measure of star potential, becoming a launch pad for some of the nation’s greatest entertainers.

Many legends have played there over the years — Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, to name but a few — and launched the careers of James Brown, the Jackson 5, Sisqo, D’Angelo, and Lauryn Hill.


Department of Media Relations
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

TSU Music Student’s Career Sets Sail on Smooth Jazz Cruise

Graduate student Jazmin Ghent wins “Opening Act Competition” and opens for Sirius/XM Hall of Fame concert    


Jazmin Ghent
Jazmin Ghent (courtesy photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – The musical ship for one Tennessee State University student has set sail and is on course to take her to destinations unknown where she will have the opportunity to be a positive role model for young musicians and help define jazz music for years to come.

Jazmin Ghent, a graduate student studying music education at the University, was recently the winner of the Smooth Jazz Cruise 2014 “Opening Act Competition,” beating out 22 other contestants for the right to perform on the final night of the cruise in front of a packed house, and to interact with some of her musical idols, including jazz icons Brian Culbertson, Boney James and David Sanborn.

“The experience was life changing,” said the Huntsville, Ala., native. “I was able to interact and speak with many artists who I grew up listening to and admire.  I had a lesson with Kirk Whalum, and personally interacted with Peter White, Keiko Matsui, Marcus Miller, Candy Dulfer and Mindi Abair to name a few. It is something I will never forget.”

Born in Heidleberg, Germany and raised in Huntsville, Ghent grew up around music and began taking piano lessons at the age of 5. She became the Sunday school pianist at only 8 years old and often practiced with the adult musicians and church choir members. After being introduced to the saxophone in middle school, she progressed to becoming the church pianist and saxophonist. “Once I was in high school, I discovered my passion for performing and teaching,” she said. “I also began playing professionally in the Huntsville area.”

After high school and a long list of awards including the NAACP’s ACT-SO award, she received a full scholarship to Florida State University where she majored in instrumental music education and jazz studies. After graduation, Ghent’s parents gave her the cruise on the high seas as a gift that would send her competing against other musicians vying for the top spot in an “American Idol” type competition.

“My parents had been on this cruise before and told me about the competition,” Ghent said. “I’ve always loved jazz from a very young age and thought this was a great opportunity.”

Once onboard the “Greatest Party at Sea,” Ghent had to initially compete against 22 other contestants who played everything from saxophone, piano, drums, and trumpet, as well as vocalists. She concedes that it was a bit nerve-racking the first round since the audience was voting on the 12 that would move forward, but even worse during the second round.

“Not only was the audience voting in the second round, but also jazz greats Brian Culbertson, Boney James and Marcus Miller,” she added. “My stress level was extremely high during that round because now I was playing for the very icons I had grown up listening to. The nice thing was that everyone was very supportive and encouraging.”

Ghent won the competition and the right to play the final night for the Sirius/XM Jazz Hall of Fame concert in front of more than 1,900 fans. Nervous, she spoke with Culbertson who told her to have fun and enjoy herself.

“After his encouraging words, I felt more comfortable playing and the nervousness turned into pure excitement,” she said.

After being introduced by both Culbertson and James, she belted our her rendition of “Summertime” composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Receiving a standing ovation, James commented that he predicts Ghent has a big future in the music business. He should know since he has four gold albums, four GRAMMY nominations, two NAACP Image Award nominations, and a Soul Train Music Award to his name, and sales totaling more than three million records.

“Wasn’t that awesome,” James told the audience. “That was very soulful. It is heartwarming to see a young person like that to get up here and play with such passion.”

Culbertson agreed with James, uttering a resounding, “Wow!”

“Jazz is not going away,” he commented. “Seeing people play like that…she is keeping it alive and that is a beautiful thing.”

Dr. Robert Elliott, head of the Music Department, agrees with both, and said that TSU has a history of producing jazz greats.

“Jazz, America’s art form, has been an important part of TSU since President Walter Davis recruited students to form the TSU Collegians,” said Elliott. “That group produced great jazz musicians such as Jimmy Blanton, who became Duke Ellington’s bass player, Hank Crawford, the music director for Ray Charles, and many others who went on to influence America’s music. Jazmin continues the record of excellence in performance that has come to be expected of TSU music students and we couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Now that the competition is over, Ghent plans to focus on completing her master’s degree at TSU, as well as continue to compose, record and perform new material.

“I would like to perform and teach on a collegiate level,” added Ghent. “I am very passionate about the future of music and the future of Jazz. I want to make sure I am a positive role model for young musicians.”



Department of Media Relations
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About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.