Members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce proposed a national museum dedicated to African American music nearly 20 years ago, in 2002. After all, African Americans have had a significant impact on the music scene in the United States, and Nashville is known as Music City. The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) ultimately opened its doors in early 2021 after extensive research, modifications in plans, and a global pandemic.
The 56,000-square-foot (5,200-square-meter) museum is located in the heart of Nashville and has seven galleries devoted to spirituals, blues, jazz, hip-hop, and other facets of African American influence on the national music scene. Interactive exhibitions and a 1,600-item collection of relics, mementos, clothing, and other items are used to tell their tales.
Plan to spend at least two hours here, beginning with a visit to the Roots Theater, where you can see a short film that will give you an introduction of the topic. The Rivers of Rhythm Pathways, an animated chronicle of American music history, is the next stop. Wade in the Water then covers the history and survival of religious music, beginning with the arrival of enslaved Africans in America and progressing through the galleries in chronological sequence. The blues are explored in the Crossroads gallery, jazz is explored in A Love Supreme, and rhythm and blues are explored in One Nation Under a Groove. Finally, The Message digs into hip-hop and rap's origins.
In a Zoom interview, Dr. Marquita Reed-Wright, NMAAM's collections manager, archivist, and gallery manager, says that visitors should expect to have a good time while learning about African Americans' musical invention and ingenuity throughout history. Just don't expect to see a lot of famous artists' iconic items. She explains, "We're not attempting to be a hall of fame." "We're telling the complete tale using artefacts, not just the storey that suits the narrative."
Reed-Wright recommends four exhibits or events that you should not miss.
1. MC Booth for Hip-Hop
You can choose a song and rap along with it in the hip-hop MC booth, which is part of the Message Gallery, or select a popular beat as a background track and freestyle. "You can also have a rap fight with a pal," explains Reed-Wright. "It's a huge hit."
2. George Clinton's On-Stage Look
The museum features one of George Clinton's extravagant outfits, known as the "godfather of funk," whose Parliament-Funkadelic Collective created an important and eclectic brand of funk music in the 1970s that relied on science fiction and psychedelia.
3. Participating in Choir Singing
You stand in front of a green screen as Dr. Bobby Jones and The Nashville Super Choir appear in this interactive exhibit. Then you join in with their singing, thereby becoming a member of the choir. Your act has been captured on film.
4. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm Trombone
According to Reed-Wright, many people have never heard of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. In the 1930s and 1940s, however, the all-female, multiracial jazz ensemble was a sensation, performing across the country and in Europe. "The trombone we have was donated by Helen Jones Woods, a founding member of the band, and it's just so lovely," she says, noting that the exhibit also emphasises women in jazz.
Preparing for Your Visit
The museum is directly across the street from the world-famous Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. If you plan to visit, check the website for hours, directions, and the most up-to-date COVID-19 visitor guidelines.