Reverend Canon Josiah Jesse Ransome-Kuti, grandfather of the Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, was the first ever Nigerian to have recorded and released an album.
The clergyman, who also happens to be the great-grandfather of the Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, had been composing music since 1878. His songs were predominantly indigenous gospel songs and hymns which were used in the colonial Anglican church.
In addition to the songs which he composed himself, he was known to have translated English hymns into his native Yoruba for use in the church at St. Peter Cathedral Church, Ake, Abeokuta, Ogun state. This was the first church built in Nigeria.
Reverend Cannon J.J. Ransome-Kuti as he was most often called, completed his education at the Church Missionary Society Training Institute, in Lagos, and soon after took up a job as a teacher at St. Peter’s School, Ake. In 1879, he eventually took up another appointment as music teacher at the CMS Girls School, Lagos.
He was made catechist in 1891, and later founded the Gbagura Church, Abeokuta. In 1895, he became a deacon, and an ordained priest two years later. He was also made district judge and served in that capacity from 1902 to 1906, before being appointed a superintendent of the Abeokuta Church Mission, and in 1911, pastor of St. Peter’s Cathedral Church, Ake. J.J RansomeKuti became the canon of the Cathedral Church of Christ in 1922.
Reverend Ransome-Kuti was known to go house to house throughout Egbaland, telling natives to put aside idol worship and communicate with God through Jesus Christ. He converted many with his dexterity on the church organ and his songs. He was said to have gone about with a “Magic lantern” with which he showed pictures of Jesus and religious sites mentioned in the bible.
in 1925 J.J. Ransome- Kuti released his first album, having recorded a number hymns in Yoruba. The album was released by Zonophone Records, a record label later acquired by Columbia Records. The songs were recorded onto vinyl discs and played using gramophones. The last of his recorded work was released in June 1921. The British Museum and many Christian libraries across the world still hold Reverend Canon Josiah Jesse Ransome-Kuti’s music.
Although the clergyman, educationist and composer died exactly 88 years ago, his hymns and songs are still sung today in many Yoruba speaking churches. They include:
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