Although Nashville TN is pervasively known as the home of Country and Bluegrass music, many styles and genres have forged this musical melting pot. The National Museum of African American Music opened up earlier this year in historic downtown Nashville, to share the history and contributions African Americans have made to so many forms of music.
When I was invited to tour this new conceptual museum, I expected the usual museum displays that are sometimes sterile, uninspiring and can be down right boring. My preconceived notions were dispelled from the moment I walked through the exhibit doors. NMAAM is a 5202 sq. meter facility that is fully interactive. Images and videos are displayed on entire walls with artefacts in cases to reinforce the style of music playing.
Upon first entering visitors relax in the Roots Theatre for a short introductory video. After that we are released into the musical stream of the Rivers of Rhythm central corridor. The different galleries take you from the early 1600’s and religious music experiences of “Wade in the Water Gallery,” to the “Crossroads Gallery” that depicts African American migration, the birth of the blues. In this exhibit you will find large touch screens where you can create your own blues songs and play them. You can save this, and other music in the museum, to your bracelet that is provided upon entry to listen to and share your NMAAM musical experience.
The next gallery is “A Love Supreme” reflecting the evolution of Jazz and the Harlem Renaissance. Next up is “One Nation Under a Groove” which is a powerful space ranging from the 1940’s through the Civil Rights Movements and on to today. “The Message” gallery begins in the 1970’s and shows how Urban renewal and life in the cities changed and morphed the music from then to now.
There are so many interactive opportunities within The National Museum of African American Music that I could fill a full article with just those. Some of my favourites were the audio booth where you can try your hand at being a DJ/MC and a Dance area where you are dancing with other virtual performers. The Rivers of Rhythm has a massive horizontal screen in the middle of the room where visitors can touch and interact with artists and music they see and hear. At random intervals an African American artist live performance will be projected in the Rivers of Rhythm hall for everyone to see and hear. While I was visiting the featured artist was Prince as he played the Super Bowl Football Game Halftime show in the rain in 2007.
A total of 50 different musical genres are part of the NMAAM experience. It is such an immersive experience that I recommend you order your tickets ahead of time and plan to allot a minimum of two to three hours to fully enjoy it. Various rotating artists/bands will be featured at the museum also. This year the Fisk Jubilee Singers, first started in 1871, will be represented. Besides the incredible visuals and music, you will also find performance clothing and instruments from some of the most popular and groundbreaking African American musical artists in the world here.
I have always been a fan of museums, especially music related ones, but I have never visited a museum that was so interactive and engaging. It isn’t only aimed at adults, but also for children of all ages. The National Museum of African American Music is a must see on your next visit to Music City!
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Editor, Maverick Magazine
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