Published on February 7, 2022
“You are created uniquely. Live in that, own that, and find your own way and definition of success and contribution. Find a way to give and make what you do matter more than just to you, your immediate family, and your bank account. Your way will be different than anyone else’s.”
When Henry Hicks, a newcomer to Nashville, agreed to join the board of the National African American Museum of Music, he had no idea it was going to end his investment banking career and lead to a legacy bigger than he had ever envisioned. Our President/CEO Kimberly Goessele spoke with Henry to find out what motivated him and how he sees his legacy today, after serving as CEO for 9 years and finally opening the museum last year during the Covid pandemic.
How do you think about your legacy?
I have always thought of my own legacy very broadly as wanting to leave the world and my community, the Black community, in a better, stronger place. More personally, I have 2 sons, and I wanted to make it easier for them. I wanted to leapfrog generations in terms of their ability to go to work and live lives on a level playing field…so they can make their own creation of their legacies that much bigger.
What was your path?
My path wasn’t linear. I saw what my peers were doing and went into business, then investment banking. It was the most phenomenal growth and the most stressful professional experience…because I was not designed to be an investment banker. I felt I was failing at times because my path was different, and while others focused on capital markets, I was trying to figure out how to make a difference and support my family. It took time to figure out how to do both. I hope the combination, doing well and doing good, is something my children will see and choose their own unique path.
How did you become so committed to the vision of the museum?
When I became CEO, I thought it was a two-year commitment. I’d get in, help write the business plan, raise the money, etc., but I was naïve.
I initially joined the board without knowing much about the project. I had invested in Grayline buses and thought building another museum to diversify the Nashville brand would be helpful. As I got to know Nashville and spoke with people around the country as I traveled for business, the idea of the museum grew bigger and bigger, and I began to understand its true importance.
The city’s definition of music was broadening, and it would be big deal to welcome African Americans back into civic and social life after being marginalized by the construction of I-40 through North Nashville and the destruction of the Jefferson Street business corridor. I also learned there was nothing like this anywhere, and that it was also a big deal for all musicians to be able to see the foundations of American music.
I’ve been in the CEO role for 9 years, and my family has had to do a double take because they never thought I could stay in one place this long!
What do you want the legacy of the museum to be?
I want it to be an awakening for the American populace, that the center point of American music is African American, and it is their entry into the states and their innovation that created American music. This is too often marginalized and not understood.
I also want it to include ALL and not exclude anyone. Above the door we have a piece of art we commissioned that uses a George Clinton lyric “One nation under a groove,” and that is really what we want.
What is your advice to anyone wondering how to create their own legacy?
You are created uniquely. Live in that, own that, and find your own way and definition of success and contribution. Find a way to give and make what you do matter more than just to you, your immediate family, and your bank account. Your way will be different than anyone else’s.
Henry Hicks Biography
Henry Hicks is the president and CEO of the National Museum of African American Music (www.nmaam.org), also known as NMAAM, which opened in 2021 at the corner of Fifth Avenue North and Broadway in downtown Nashville. From African tribal rhythms to hip-hop, the 56,000 sq. ft. experiential museum highlights the many contributions African Americans have made to American music and culture.
Henry’s career has included stints as a White House Fellow, advisor to the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, working in the investment banking division of Bank of America and as a partner with Red Clay Capital Holdings, LLC (redclaycapital.com), a private equity firm with offices in Atlanta and Nashville.
Henry is a member of the boards of directors for Leadership Nashville, University School of Nashville and the Center for Non-Profit Management. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing from Morehouse College and an MBA in Finance from the University of North Carolina. He is married, and he and his wife Crystal have two sons.