Nashville Plans To Build The Country’s First Museum Dedicated To African American Music

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The Nashville skyline

A museum honoring the accomplishments of African American musicians may begin construction in the city of Nashville as soon as 2015.

Dedicated to highlighting the cultural and musical impact of black musicians in American history, as well as focusing on the rich musical history of black musicians from the city, the National Museum of African American Music will be constructed partly as a redevelopment of the downtown Nashville Convention Center. The museum hopes to cover the expansive musical history that African Americans have created and innovated from as early as the time the United States was a colony and educate its audience on its impact both nationally and internationally.

The project is the culmination of a task force commissioned back in 2000 by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which was meant to study the idea of honoring black musicians. The museum, which originally began with a budget goal of $43 million, now is looking for a reduced goal of $25 million — largely thanks to a committal of $10 million by the city in 2006. The city has also donated its convention center as a venue for the project.

The museum’s establishment is especially significant as, despite the city’s rich multicultural history, many perceive Nashville’s culture to be exclusively white due to its reputation for country music stars, and turn a blind eye to the contributions of African American artists. The perception is especially unfortunate considering over a quarter of Nashville’s population is African American and the city’s tourism industry is currently experiencing a rapid boom. The city once attracted major black musicians to an area known as “Music Row”, located on Jefferson Street, including such prominent names as Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King.

“I believe there is strong interest and demand for this type of museum, and the planned location is in a vibrant section of our downtown,” Mayor Karl Dean told Music Times.

While the museum’s construction hasn’t begun, its cultural programming has, educating Nashville schoolchildren about instruments like spoons, washboard basses, and cigar-box guitars. The museum’s Emerging Artist’s series has also begun with the goal of showcasing the talent and impact of African American artists on American culture featuring musicians who will represent diverse musical styles and cultural perspectives.