New National Museum of African American Music Opens in Nashville

Posted by on Nov 3, 2021 in People and Culture

Nashville, Tennessee calls itself Music City. Music lovers and tourists enjoy the many performance venues in downtown Nashville. Many famous country musicians started their careers here or make sure to perform here now: Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, Patsy Cline, Tim McGraw, Aaron Neville, and others. The contributions of African American country musicians have been less celebrated in Nashville’s past. A new addition to the city’s music scene focuses on the musical contributions of people of color. It is called the National Museum of African American Music. Here, btw takes a closer look.

Skyline, Nashville, Tennessee
The Nashville, Tennessee skyline at sunset.

A Changing Image

For many years, city leaders have been working to diversify Nashville’s image. Nashville is already a diverse city.  As of 2021, the city is 63 percent white and 28 percent African American. But city leaders say that more needs to be done to show this. Instead of Nashville being the home of country music, they want the city to be viewed as the American home of music in general.

In 1998, the idea for a Museum of African American Music, Arts and Culture was born. This proposed museum would focus on fine arts, sports, and politics as well as music. This idea was discussed and revised for years. Eventually, the decision was made to focus just on music because of the number of civil-rights-themed museums just a few hours away. (The Lorraine Motel/National Civil Rights Museum is in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is in nearby Alabama.) Nashville city leaders started to think that focusing on music would make their museum unique.

What’s It Like?

The only museum dedicated to the musical influence and contributions of African Americans, the National Museum of African American Music displays historic items ranging from local to national artifacts. The museum highlights other genres of music besides country.. This includes blues and African American spirituals, as well as the groups that made them popular. The museum explains that Nashville didn’t just produce white musicians, but plenty of musicians of color as well. This includes Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Ray Charles, and Etta James just to name a few.

The museum is located in downtown Nashville, in the Broadway Historic District. This placement has its advantages, making it accessible to tourists.

Dig Deeper Compile a list of African American musicians who got their start in Nashville or who credit it with their big break.