by Buddy Mathis | photos courtesy of NMAAM
Nashville, Tennessee is the greatest city in the United States. I grew up in Germany in a military family and didn’t go to a concert until I was about 20 years old. I met a good friend who took me to Nashville to see my first concerts and music acts. As someone who grew up with hip-hop culture, I was amazed by how many rap shows Nashville hosted from then until now. We saw performances from Murs, The Pharcyde, The Roots – still one of the best shows I’ve ever witnessed – and got introduced to promotions like Lovenoise and The Boom Bap. With underground rap and neo-soul being my primary go-to when it came to listening to music, it was always hard to find a lot of like-minded people who had the same interests. Lovenoise, Boom Bap, Cafe Coco and Liquid Smoke showed me that not only were there enough of those people around but they were all in Nashville having a great time facilitating an inclusive environment for Black music. Once I went to a performance at the Boom Bap with 9th Wonder deejaying and someone had a t-shirt that read, “There’s Hip-Hop In Nashville.” I’ll never forget that day.
And yet, whenever I speak with people from out of town about the fact that I love Nashville so much, I’m always met with the same confused responses, “You mean the country music place?” or “I don’t know how you can do it with all that country,” and several other canned replies. Being someone who loves the city so much, I can attest to there being so much more than just honky-tonk. Yes, that’s a presence but it’s not the most dominating. From the annual Pride celebrations, our professional hockey and football teams, the growing textile and clothing districts, the industrial scene, and so much live music, there’s something for everyone in and around town. Still, people are hard-pressed to believe that there’s a predominant Black music presence in Music City. With the opening of the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM), it won’t be so hard to convince people anymore.
Opening Summer 2020, the NMAAM is the only museum of its kind dedicated specifically to multiple genres of African American music throughout the ages. It’ll feature several galleries dedicated to different eras alongside the prevalent music styles, significant events and the legends behind them. Exhibits include Wade In The Water: The African American Religious Experience starting from the 1600s, A Love Supreme: Harlem Renaissance and the Emergence of Jazz, One Nation Under A Groove: The Civil Rights Movement and The Message: Urban Renewal as well as the Rivers of Rhythm Pathways that connect each exhibit.
The way the galleries are sectioned off is how Black music evolved over time to tell our stories. As the lives of African Americans changed, so did our feelings and how we convey our message. Starting off from African roots, moving to slave hymns and leading into gospel is only the beginning of the journey, transitioning to jazz, soul, funk, R & B, and of course, hip-hop. Instead of a singular focus, the NMAAM chose to show that all styles are connected to each other and how we’re better for it. Younger generations may not realize how deep their roots go and a museum of this caliber in the heart of Nashville will show them just how far.
People don’t have to wait to see the influence of the museum as they’ve been hosting events in preparation for the opening for some time now. Sips & Stanzas has been a recurring event with the series focusing on cultural icons and events such as Jimi Hendrix, folk legends, The Rise of the DJ, Miles Davis, James Brown and breaking down many moments of Black music history with insightful discussions. This year alone a Celebration of Legends Gala was thrown in which hip-hop pioneers Doug E. Fresh and Fatman Scoop were attendees as well as revered vocalist Gloria Gaynor. Events have continued monthly with no signs of slowing down and it seems this is exactly the point.
NMAAM President & CEO H. Beecher Hicks, III has been working on bringing this museum to life for the better part of two decades making sure that it’s seen as a serious endeavor instead of a half-hearted publicity stunt to attract people of color to the area. When asked about the museum Hicks said, “There’s nothing quite like music to bring people together. And there will be no place on Earth that celebrates that principle, embedded in the history of African American music, like the [NMAAM]. NMAAM will tell the untold story of the African American influence on the music we all know and love today — everything from gospel to rock, to hip hop, to even country, and all the styles and genres in between. We’ll be the magnet for attracting a new set of visitors to downtown Nashville and begin to show the world that ‘Music City’ isn’t about just one kind of music, but welcomes and includes all voices, sounds and people.”
And to further prove this isn’t a flash in the pan, the selected leadership doesn’t skimp on star power or experience, boasting names such as Grammy Award-winning artists India.Arie, Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish, Cece Winans and Keb’Mo as national chairs and a host of well educated and experienced leadership for all aspects of the museum, the majority Black or African American, ensuring that the stories exhibited are told by the people they relate to most. It’s important to have them out in front and behind the scenes to show how serious Nashville and the NMAAM is about preserving this history. Nothing here is whitewashed or watered down, told in the purest form as only a Nashville museum should.
With so many museums in Music City, it makes sense to finally have one dedicated to the roots of every music genre in existence today. African American music has influenced every piece of music available and, although Nashville is known for country, this museum will show that none of that would have been possible without the efforts of our Black and brown ancestors. So much will be learned from people not only city-wide but across the nation. Visitors worldwide will see that Nashville is the host to every type of music in Music City. After this summer I’ll gladly be telling friends that I don’t have to worry too much about being overloaded with country because the museum connects all of us and proves that Nashville is much more than people imagined. One nation under a groove indeed.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC
When: Opens Summer 2020
Where: 211 7th Ave. N., Suite 420
Online: Visit nmaam.org