World’s first African American music museum opens in Nashville
Friday, February 05, 2021
The world’s first and only institution dedicated to preserving and celebrating African American music opened to the public Jan. 30, 2021, in Nashville.
Tennessee’s capital city has long attracted visitors to its throng of neon-lit honky-tonks, live music venues and songwriter’s cafes — and now “Music City,” as it is popularly known, is home to a monumental new attraction for music lovers — the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM).
Located downtown at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, the new museum “walks through the history of American music as told through an African American prism,” says NMAAM’s President and CEO H. Beecher Hicks. In so doing, it traces African American music traditions from the 1600s to the present day, ranging from spiritual hymns to blues, gospel, jazz, R&B and hip-hop.
Once inside the 56,000-square-foot complex, visitors encounter seven interactive galleries — six of them permanent and one rotating — that tell the story of how a distinct group of people used their musical artistry to impact and change the world.
The journey begins in the Roots Theater with an introductory film that focuses on the evolution of African American music traditions, beginning with indigenous African music that survived slavery to become so much more. Each of the following galleries presents specific historical periods that influenced the creation of African American music. They include:
WADE IN THE WATER — The African American Religious Experience: Early 1600s to Present.
CROSSROADS — The Great Migration and the Emergence of Blues, Early 1900s.
A LOVE SUPREME — Harlem Renaissance and the Emergence of Jazz.
ONE NATION UNDER A GROOVE — Civil Rights Movement: 1940s to Present.
THE MESSAGE — Urban Renewal: 1970s to Present.
Particularly impressive is the gallery ONE NATION UNDER A GROOVE that documents the emergence of rhythm and blues following World War II and amid the Civil Rights Movement.
“I think Black music always represents culture and what’s happening,” said Grammy-winning R&B artist H.E.R., who contributed to the gallery’s history of R&B video. “Where were people’s minds and hearts, what were they feeling, what were they focused on, what was the overall culture and what was the racial tension? Music is the place that you go to better understand that. Music is the language everybody speaks.”
Museum curator Dina Bennett points out that the more than 1,600 artifacts and memorabilia on display help tell the story of Black trailblazers and innovators, and they include traditional African instruments, a sweater owned by Nat King Cole, a gown worn by singer Whitney Houston, a pair of diamond-studded boots worn by influential Miami rapper Trina and the bass guitar played by A Taste of Honey’s Janice-Marie Johnson.
“Johnson played that bass on her hit ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie,’ which went on to sell 10 million copies,” Bennett said.
“We have been preparing this collection for more than 20 years,” said CEO Hicks, “but this museum has actually been more than 400 years in the making. We look forward to welcoming music lovers from around the world to this magnificent cultural experience as we prepare to celebrate the history of African American music, which truly is the soundtrack of our nation.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NMAAM will initially only allow a limited number of visitors for scheduled tours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Masks will be required for entrance. General admission costs $24.95 for adults; $18.75 for students, teachers and senior citizens, and $13.50 for guests 7-17 years old. Visitors 6 and younger enter for free.
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