Music Museums Dedicated to Nashville’s New History
A true music lover could spend a full week in Nashville just visiting museums and soaking up the history of the Music City’s legendary artists, without a moment of boredom.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
In the heart of downtown Nashville, you’ll find the world’s biggest storehouse of country music artifacts at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. In fact, the museum is twice as big as it used to be, due to a renovation and expansion in 2014. More space was needed to house the growing museum collection, including costumes (like Shania Twain’s leopard outfit from her That Don’t Impress Me Much video), instruments (like Hank William’s acoustic guitar), and cars (like Elvis Presley’s solid gold Cadillac limo).
Country music history lives on here with a depth and dedication that will delight any visiting fan. The museum further honored this history at their 50th anniversary celebration. On April 1, 2017 (no fooling), visitors were admitted to a full day of festivities for the low price of $1.50, which was the cost of a ticket on opening day in 1967. However, there’s more than classic country on display in these galleries. Recent exhibitions have been dedicated to Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley and the Zac Brown Band.
The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
Covering all genres of music, including R&B, funk, soul, jazz, rock, pop and, of course, country, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum honors the musicians who played songs recorded on the gold and platinum albums we love - both the household names and the more obscure, but equally impressive, studio musicians. As Neil Young said about the museum: “Everybody has these big shows for the hood ornament. Don’t forget what’s under the hood.”
Located in the Historic Nashville Municipal Auditorium, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum has the actual instruments used to write and record some of the greatest tracks of all time on display, such as the baby grand piano that Elton John used to write “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Don’t let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “The Bitch is Back.”
For some hands-on music fun, visit the first floor of the auditorium, which is dedicated to The GRAMMY Museum Gallery. Visitors can learn all about the history of the GRAMMY Awards; then, those who are so inclined can actually perform onstage, or try out every step of the recording process, from songwriting to producing.
The Johnny Cash Museum
Not far from the Country Music Hall of Fame, you’ll find the Johnny Cash Museum. The space is small, but it offers a wealth of information and mementos that will fascinate long-time Cash fans as well as newbies who’ve only just been introduced to “The Man in Black.”
Along with the guitars, clothing, photographs and concert posters that you’d expect to see in a Johnny Cash museum, there are surprises like interactive exhibits and visual art created by Cash himself. The museum gets crowded on weekends, so visit during the week to have more breathing room while you explore.
The Patsy Cline Museum
Just upstairs from the Johnny Cash Museum is a new establishment dedicated to the velvet-voiced Patsy Cline, who remains one of the biggest names in country music despite her tragic death in a plane crash at only 30 years old.
In the midst of displays related to Cline’s career, you’ll find personal exhibits, such as a re-creation of the dining room in her Nashville dream home, complete with her beloved collection of novelty salt and pepper shakers. There is also a recreation of the home’s rec room, featuring her original stereo and record collection. Another lovely personal touch is the set of touchscreen tablets, which visitors can use to browse family photos and Cline’s wedding album, as well as to read through a library of the many letters she wrote in reply to her fan mail.
George Jones Entertainment Complex
The George Jones Entertainment Complex is the only museum in town that offers live music, food and plenty of alcohol. While you don’t have to purchase admission to the museum segment of the complex to enjoy the other elements (like Choices, the restaurant on the street level of the building, or The George, a rooftop bar with a performance stage and a truly spectacular view), the museum is a must for all George Jones fans.
Highlighted are classic suits, guitars and gold records that pay homage to Jones’ career. However, there are also plenty of personal items, like the riding lawn mower he drove to the liquor store after his brother-in-law took away his car keys. His fourth wife, Nancy, has been known to stop by to greet visitors, so be on the lookout!
Even without a physical building (the grand opening is slated for 2019), the National Museum of African American Music already offers some truly wonderful youth and adult programming. Each month, the Emerging Artist Series features a free concert as a part of Sips and Stanzas, which holds regular social/educational events at different venues across the city for those interested in the museum and the Nashville music scene. Youth programs include a three-week choral music retreat, conversational lectures with musicians and industry leaders, and workshops set up to teach students about the history and significance of homemade instruments, including the spoons, harmonica, cigar box guitar, banjo and washtub bass.