Northeastern graduate makes history as the first Bangladeshi American to win an Emmy Award

Shams Ahmed conducting the Nor'easters
Shams Ahmed a Northeastern Grad made history as the first Bangladeshi-American to win an emmy. Photo by Lauren Scornavacca

When Shams Ahmed’s name came across the screen as a winner in the 44th Sports Emmy Awards, he was “flabbergasted.”

After all, the piece he directed, an arrangement of “Ragged Old Flag” by Johnny Cash aired during the Super Bowl, was up against legends like John Williams, known for composing music for Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Star Wars. 

Shams Ahmed holding Emmy Award
Shams Ahmed a Northeastern Grad made history as the first Bangladeshi-American to win an Emmy

But once it happened, he felt an outpouring of support worldwide as the first Bangladeshi American to receive the award. 

“It’s not only a personal victory, but it does feel like a victory for Bangladesh as a country to have this historic moment,” Ahmed says. 

Ahmed says that winning the Emmy, especially as a person of color and a child of immigrants, was an exceptional experience. The video showcases children singing national anthems at American landmarks as Johnny Cash narrates his song “Ragged Old Flag.”  To win for a patriotic piece about America was never something he ever imagined seeing. 

“It’s really awesome,” says Ahmed. “It’s a very exciting time.”

Ahmed says the success of becoming an arranger, vocal producer and creative director all began at Northeastern University, where he directed acappella heavy-hitters and two-time ICCA champions, The Nor’easters, while studying finance. Under his leadership, the group progressed from a humble beginning to one of the most storied groups in the game. 

“The leadership that I was able to exercise in that group set me up for a lot of success later in life,” Ahmed says. “I attribute a lot of what I have now, career-wise, professionally, to that group.”

In 2013, Ahmed continued pursuing musical projects while juggling a busy career in investment banking and finance in Boston.

It’s not only a personal victory, but it does feel like a victory for Bangladesh as a country to have this historic moment.

Shams Ahmed, a Northeastern graduate and Emmy Award winner

During the summers, Ahmed would go to Los Angeles, where he directed at A Cappella Academy, an elite summer music program designed to train the top up-and-coming vocalists from around the world. 

In 2019, Ahmed helped launch a female pop and R&B group called Citizen Queen alongside Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying, Jonathan Kalter and Ben Bram. In the first two years, the group landed a record deal with RCA and has more than 30 million channel views on YouTube.

The group also launched a new children’s a cappella brand called Acapop! KIDS, who have racked up over 100 million views across YouTube and Facebook. The group recently performed on The Kelly Clarkson Show and consistently rolls out music videos. 

Ahmed also serves as a regular judge at the International Competition for Collegiate A Cappella, All-American Awaaz, and the Contemporary A Cappella Society festivals. 

Ahemd’s team had a tight turnaround when awarded the opportunity to showcase Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” with a youth choir ensemble. The team arranged it on week one and filmed it on the weekends with the 25 children in the cast, turning the production around within two weeks. 

“It’s very important for me, as a person of color myself, to always advocate for placing people of color, especially youth of color, in front of these massive audiences,” Ahmed says. “We’re really proud of the piece.”

Ahmed also serves as a director of talent and creativity for Northeastern University events. 

Typically, after a student graduates from college, they move on, says Rick Davis, VP of Advancement Global Engagement. But not with Ahmed. 

“Shams never left,” Davis says. 

It’s been 10 years since Ahmed graduated, but he continues to help craft musical ensembles.

When Ahmed returned to help the Nor’easters, Davis watched as he pushed the group members to be the best they could be.

It is true Northeastern experiential learning, Davis says. 

When asked if he was surprised that Ahmed won an Emmy, Davis says, “I saw it in the making. I saw it coming, and I don’t think it will be the last one he receives.”

For the past few years, Ahmed has been instrumental in putting together the graduation ceremonies. 

“To think now we have an Emmy Award winner as director of commencement and musical performance!” says Julie Norton, the director of academic ceremonies and creative experiences. “He’s such a talent. I really feel fortunate that I can work with someone like him that’s also an alum and gets what Northeastern is about.”

Norton adds, “We knew the value of Shams before he was an Emmy-winning director.”
Beth Treffeisen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beth_treffeisen.