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From Opa Locka to FAMU, and Beyond

Dr. Kawachi Clemons

By Nathan Vinson | Senior Writer
On March 15, 2017


All heroes do not wear capes, and sometimes those heroes do not even know that they are indeed a hero. Meet Dr. Kawachi Clemons.

Born in Opa-Locka, FL, now known as Miami Gardens, Clemons interest in music was first fostered by his father, who played the saxophone and the clarinet. After graduating from high school, he decided to attend Florida A&M University, where he graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Science degree in Music Education in 1998. Clemons then decided to move back to South Florida to attend Florida International University, earning a Masters of Music in one of the university’s newest programs at the time, Performing Arts Management.

“The program was in collaboration with Walt Disney Entertainment,” said Clemons. “That was one of the biggest draws  to pursue that degree program.”

During his time as a grad student, Dr. Clemons got the opportunity to do work behind-the-scenes on the Super Bowl XXXIII Halftime Show, piquing his interest in the production aspect of entertainment. Through a series of connections, he was able to follow this passion by invitation to work production at the 71st annual Academy Awards.

After completing an internship with the Walt Disney company, Clemons turned down a chance to fully immerse himself into major Hollywood productions to pursue his purpose in music education. He taught at FIU for two years before receiving an opportunity to work at North Carolina Central University as assistant director of the university’s band.

Clemons soon began working with former FAMU President Dr. James Ammons, who was the Chancellor of NCCU at the time, on various projects surrounding hip-hop music in academia.

“We had a number of events [including]: a series of hip-hop summits, an ‘Artists in Residence’ program, and even offered a degree in music industry,” Clemons said.

He received the Ph.D. in education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he taught courses in Arts Education, before heading back to his alma mater FAMU to work as an Assistant Professor of Music in 2008.

During his time at FAMU, Dr. Clemons served as the Director of the Institute for Research in Music and Entertainment Industry Studies, Associate Professor of Music, and Interim Chair and permanent Chair of the Music Department.

One of his biggest accomplishments is developing and creating the Music Industry program that is so widely known around FAMU today. Clemons strived to create a holistic and all-encompassing view of the music industry for students to be well-prepared in their post-collegiate endeavors.

Albeit his various titles and positions, Clemons’s first priority has been, is, and will always be the students.

“It was never about me; it was always about the students,” Clemons said. “My goal is to have the most impact in where I am, in whatever capacity.”

Dr. Clemons certainly served FAMU in multiple capacities outside of the music department. He spearheaded a unique pathway to the MBA degree offered by the School of Business & Industry through the Music Industry program, and even helped secure office spaces and two production studios in the School of Journalism of Graphic Communication for the Producer-In-Residence initiative.

Sadly, Dr. Clemons has left his Associate Dean of Academic Affairs position at FAMU and will now serve as the Assistant to the Provost at Virginia State University, where he will, among other things, help oversee, create, and update academic policies for VSU students.

In his heart of hearts, however, teaching others will always be his true purpose.

“I’ve always had a passion for education. My philosophy of education is that it’s a lifelong process of discovery. I’ve always been about the business of educating, in traditional and non-traditional classroom settings,” Clemons said. “I think that wherever I am, the educator in me is always there. Teaching is always there, because it’s a part of who I am and what I do.”

And when one selflessly follows their purpose in service of others, that is the true definition of a hero.



Student Testimonials:


In 2012, Dr. Clemons asked me how I felt about putting together a team to create an album of my own because him and one of his colleagues thought I was talented enough to go somewhere. If it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't still be pursuing a career in singing today.” –Honesty Brennan, BS, Music Industry ’13 Graduate


“The Music Industry program is effective in that it provides students the opportunity to develop their creativity. Personally, he allowed me to arrange and design live shows and compose, write, and record my own original songs. He did this to show his studies that the best way to get something done is to do it. To this day, I've gotten opportunities because of those demos that I did five years ago. Dr. Clemons’s legacy to the department of music is important because he encouraged not only the faculty, but the students to look beyond the stereotypes of what is considered to be "traditional" music education.” –Brandon Cunningham, BS, Business Administration ’11 Graduate & BS, Music Industry ’14 Graduate


“If it had not been for Dr. Clemons revolutionizing the music curriculum, I most likely would not have attended FAMU. Professor Clemons implemented the curriculum and education of advanced performing arts schools found in areas such as ATL, LA and NY right here in my hometown; the city of Tallahassee, FL. For that, I am forever grateful.”

-Donarah Sheppard, Junior, Music Industry Student

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