Canon Thomas Nisbett: The Trailblazer
Chelsea Amber wanted the world to know about her grandfather, the Reverend Canon Thomas Nisbett, and all of his accomplishments.
Aside from that she wanted to celebrate the 97-year-old in a way that would resonate with her daughter and her future children and grandchildren.
It’s how My Grandfather: The Trailblazer came to be. The video tells the story of his struggle to become ordained as a minister; in the background Chelsea Amber sings the African American spiritual, Down in the River to Pray.
“The song reminds me of my grandpa, Reverend Canon Thomas Nisbett, who used to sing these old spirituals as an 11 and 12-year-old boy in an a cappella group called The Nisbett Brothers and they would travel all up and down Bermuda singing in churches and at different events,” she says in the video. “Little did he know at that age that he would become a trailblazer and a history maker in his country.”
The Canadian singer/songwriter released My Grandfather: The Trailblazer during Black History Month.
Canon Nisbett was ordained in 1963 and made history two years later as the first Black person to hold a permanent post in the Anglican church, when he became assistant priest at St James.
After periods at Chapel of Ease and St John’s, he was appointed rector of Christ Church, Devonshire, a post he held for 22 years.
He served as chaplain to the Anglican bishop, the Governor and the Diocesan Guild Council before he became a canon in 1981. His progress is detailed in granddaughter's tribute.
“It was a video to honour him and his legacy,” she said. “I always think, why do we wait until it's too late to let people know that we appreciate them? So I made the video to honour him and it's something that I can show my daughter and future children and hopefully grandchildren, to share the legacy and heritage that he has made for us.”
Canon Nisbett didn’t know his granddaughter was planning anything in his honour until it was complete.
“He watched it while I was on the phone and said, ‘You made that for me? Thank you!’” the singer said.
Aside from information gleaned from The Royal Gazette, she drew on details about her grandfather gathered during an interview she did with him “a few years back”.
“I called him on the phone and just asked him questions because he doesn't really talk about himself that much and I wanted to hear from him, of his story,” she said.
She was forced to turn to Canon Nisbett’s Wikipedia page to learn about honours such as the OBE he received in 1992 for “services to the community”.
In putting it all together she was thrilled to discover that one of her past projects was a perfect fit.
“When I was working on my Face the Waves album that I put out a few years ago my producer suggested that I add the song Down in the River. It's an intro and outro on my album and when he suggested that I got excited because I was like, ‘This ties back to my family history. My grandfather used to sing these old African American spirituals up and down the island of Bermuda.’”
Also fantastic is that response to the video has been “really positive”.
“I've had people who didn't know about his history that have sent me messages: ‘Hey, that's so inspiring, so amazing.’”
Chelsea Amber hasn’t been on the island since 2011 when she was here for the funeral of her grandmother Winifred, Canon Nisbett’s wife.
Since then she has kept in touch with him through phone calls and occasional family video chats.
“I think his story is one that deserves to be told and retold. He's somebody that is very humble and quite soft-spoken and yet he's done these amazing things with his life,” she said. “And I think it's really inspiring to anybody who hears his story. We just went through Black History Month in February and it's just so inspiring to see how he's broken down walls with his life. I think his story is very important for everyone to hear.”
As far as her own music goes, like most people in the entertainment industry, Covid-19 slowed everything down. Added to that, she had a baby daughter.
“I have songs I've been sitting on since just before the pandemic that I was hoping to put out sooner. I'm not currently in the studio, but I'm working on plans of how to go about releasing those as soon as I can. I don't know when that's going to be.”
Listen to Chelsea Amber’s songs on Spotify, iTunes and other music channels. Follow her on Instagram: @chelseaambermusic
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