Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
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|Location||222 5th Ave S|
Nashville, Tennessee 37203
|Visitors||More than 1.2 million in 2019|
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the world's largest museums and research centers dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of American vernacular music. Chartered in 1964, the museum has amassed one of the world's most extensive musical collections.
History of the museum
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is the world's largest repository of country music artifacts. Early in the 1960s, as the Country Music Association's (CMA) campaign to publicize country music was accelerating, CMA leaders determined that a new organization was needed to operate a country music museum and related activities beyond CMA's scope as a simply a trade organization. Toward this end, the nonprofit Country Music Foundation (CMF) was chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964 to collect, preserve, and publicize information and artifacts relating to the history of country music. Through CMF, industry leaders raised money with the effort of CMA Executive Director Jo Walker-Meador to build the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened on April 1, 1967. The original building was a barn-shaped structure located at the head of Music Row, erected on the site of a small Nashville city park. This hall of fame was modeled after the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. At this point, artifacts began to be displayed and a small library was begun in a loft above one of the museum's galleries.
Early in the 1970s, the basement of the museum building was partially complete, and library expansion began, embracing not only recordings, but also books and periodicals, sheet music and songbooks, photographs, business documents, and other materials. At the outset, CMA staff had run the museum, but by 1972, the museum (already governed by its own independent board of directors) acquired its own small staff.
Building expansion took place in 1974, 1977, and 1984 to store and display the museum's growing collection of costumes, films, historic cars, musical instruments, and other artifacts. An education department was created to conduct ongoing programs with Middle Tennessee schools; an oral history program was begun; and a publications department was launched to handle books, as well as the Journal of Country Music.
To become more accessible, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum moved to a new, 140,000-square-foot (13,000 m2) facility in the heart of downtown Nashville's arts and entertainment district in May 2001. In 2014, the museum unveiled a $100 million expansion, doubling its size to 350,000 square feet of galleries, archival storage, education classrooms, retail stores, and special event space.
In the museum's core exhibition, Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music, visitors are immersed in the history and sounds of country music. The story is revealed through artifacts, photographs, text panels, recorded sound, vintage video, and interactive touchscreens. Sing Me Back Home is enhanced by rotating limited-engagement exhibits. The ACM Gallery and the Dinah and Fred Gretsch Family Gallery features artifacts from today's country stars and a series of technology-enhanced activities. The ACM Gallery houses the annual exhibition, American Currents: State of Music, which chronicles country music's most recent past.
In addition to the galleries, the museum has the 776-seat CMA Theater, the Taylor Swift Education Center, and multi-purpose event rental spaces. Other historic properties of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum include one of the country's oldest letterpress print shop Hatch Show Print (located inside the museum) and Historic RCA Studio B (located on Music Row), Nashville's oldest surviving recording studio, where recordings by Country Music Hall of Fame members Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, and many others were made.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has developed multiple platforms to make its collection accessible to a wider audience. From weekly instrument demonstrations to its flagship songwriting program for schools, Words & Music, the museum offers an aggressive schedule of educational and family programs. The museum also operates CMF Records, a Grammy-winning re-issue label (The Complete Hank Williams and Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970); and CMF Press, a publishing imprint that has released books in cooperation with Vanderbilt University Press and other major trade publishing houses.
The Country Music Hall of Fame
For a professional in the country music field, membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame, is the highest honor the genre can bestow. An invitation can be extended to performers, songwriters, broadcasters, musicians, and executives in recognition of their contributions to the development of country music. The hall of fame honor was created in 1961 by the Country Music Association (CMA); the first inductees were Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, and Fred Rose. Roy Acuff, the first living artist to join the Hall of Fame, was elected in 1962. The most recent inductees (class of 2022) are Joe Galante, Keith Whitley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Over the Hall of Fame's history, the number of new members inducted each year has varied from one to twelve (no nominee was inducted in 1963, no candidate having received sufficient votes). Election to the Country Music Hall of Fame is solely the prerogative of the CMA. New members, elected annually by a panel of industry executives chosen by the CMA, are inducted formally during the Medallion Ceremony, part of the annual reunion of Country Music Hall of Fame members hosted by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization and does not participate in the election.
Bas-relief portraits (similar to that in the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York) cast in bronze honoring each Hall of Fame member were originally displayed at the Tennessee State Museum in downtown Nashville until the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened its own building in April 1967; in this barn-roofed facility at the head of Music Row, the bronze plaques formed a special exhibit. Through a licensing agreement with the CMA, the Museum exhibits the bronze plaques commemorating membership in a space and fashion befitting the honor.
The Museum collection
The museum's collections document country music from its folk roots through today. Artifacts and archival materials not on exhibit are housed in the museum's 46,000 square foot secure, climate-controlled collections storage rooms and in the Frist Library and Archives, located on museum's third floor. The collection includes:
- The Bob Pinson Recorded Sound Collection comprising over 250,000 sound recordings, including an estimated 98% of all pre-World War II country recordings released commercially
- Approximately 500,000 photographic prints, negatives, transparencies and digital images
- More than 30,000 moving images on film, video and digital formats
- Over 900 musical instruments, including Mother Maybelle Carter's Gibson L-5 guitar, Bob Wills's fiddle, Chet Atkins's 1950 D’Angelico archtop guitar and Bill Monroe's mandolin
- Thousands of stage costumes and accessories, from rhinestone-encrusted “Nudie suits” to homemade cotton dresses, formal gowns, cowboy boots, hats, and jeans
- Oral histories, handwritten song manuscripts, scrapbooks, correspondence, fan club newsletters, sheet music, business documents, periodicals, and books
- Iconic Vehicles: Elvis Presley's 1960 "Solid Gold" Cadillac limousine, Webb Pierce's 1962 Pontiac Bonneville convertible, and Jerry Reed's 1980 Pontiac Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit II.
Architecture and design
The downtown building was designed by Nashville's Tuck-Hinton Architectural Firm with Seab Tuck as the project architect. When viewed from the air, the building forms a massive bass clef. The point on the sweeping arch of the building suggests the tailfin of a 1959 Cadillac sedan. The building's front windows resemble piano keys. The tower on top of the Rotunda that extends down the Hall of Fame is a replica of the distinctive diamond-shaped WSM radio tower, which was originally built in 1932 just south of Nashville and is still in operation.
The Rotunda itself is replete with symbolic architectural elements. For example, the exterior of this cylindrical structure can be viewed variously as a drum kit, a rural water tower, or grain silo. The four disc tiers of the Rotunda's roof evoke the evolution of recording technology—the 78, the vinyl LP, the 45, and the CD. Stone bars on the Rotunda's outside wall symbolize the notes of the Carter Family's classic song "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", while the title of the song rings the interior of the structure. The Hall of Fame member's plaques housed within the Rotunda are reminiscent of notes on a musical staff.
Solid, earthy materials native to the Mid-South—wood, concrete, steel, and stone—were used in the building's construction as a reminder of the music's strong roots in the lives of working Americans. Georgia yellow pine adorns the floors of the Conservatory and is also found in the Hall of Fame Rotunda the Ford Theater. Crab Orchard Stone from the East Tennessee mountains lend a homey, rustic touch to the Conservatory's "front porch" atmosphere and is also found on the Rotunda's walls. The large steel beams supporting the Conservatory's glass ceiling and walls conjure up images of rural railroad bridges. In another transportation metaphor, the cascading water along the Grand Staircase calls to mind the mighty rivers that have inspired so much of our nation's music and have physically connected musicians in various regions of the nations.
Musical symbolism continues within the museum galleries. Hardwood floors, curtain-like exhibit-case fronts, and low hanging lights suspended by cables create the backstage atmosphere of the Third Floor. Similarly, modular exhibit stations and vinyl floors evoke a recording studio environment on the Second Floor.
- 1961: The Country Music Association (CMA) establishes the Country Music Hall of Fame
- 1964: CMA charters the not-for-profit Country Music Foundation (CMF), which operates the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
- 1967: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opens on Music Row on April 1
- 1972: The Museum purchases the Bob Pinson Recorded Sound Collection, which comprises nearly 200,000 sound recordings including an estimated 98 percent of all pre-World War II country recordings released commercially
- 1977: The Museum begins to operate Historic RCA Studio B as a historic site and learning laboratory
- 1979: The Museum launches Words & Music, which helps students develop language arts skills through songwriting
- 1987: The Museum earns accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums
- 1992: The Gaylord donates Hatch Show Print to the Country Music Foundation
- 1992: The Maddox Family Foundation donates Historic RCA Studio B to the Museum; in 2002, the Mike Curb Family Foundation purchases Studio B and leases it back to the Museum at $1 per year
- 2000: In preparation for the move to downtown Nashville, the Museum closes its doors on Music Row on Dec. 31
- 2001: The Museum moves to a new 140,000-square-foot facility in downtown Nashville, which opens to the public on May 17
- 2003: The Museum establishes its Artist in Residence program; Cowboy Jack Clement is the first artist to be recognized
- 2004: The Museum opens the exhibition Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm and Blues in March
- 2005: Country Music Hall of Fame member and Museum Board President Vince Gill establishes All for the Hall, a fundraising event that brings together the country music community in support of museum's educational programs
- 2006: The Museum introduces the Nashville Cats honor, recognizing the musicians and session singers who have played important roles in country music history
- 2006: The Museum opens the exhibit I Can't Stop Loving You: Ray Charles and Country Music in March
- 2006: In partnership with the Kennedy Center, the Museum sponsors “Country: A Celebration of America’s Music,” a multi-day festival that ran March 20 – April 9
- 2007: The Museum begins to honor country music's Poets and Prophets - those songwriters who have made their mark on country music
- 2007: The Museum hosts its first Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum, which honors a music industry leader who represents the legacy of pioneer Louise Scruggs
- 2008: The Museum opens the exhibition Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy in March
- 2012: The Museum opens the exhibit The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country in March
- 2013: The Taylor Swift Education Center opens on Oct. 12
- 2013: Hatch Show Print moves to its sixth location inside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and opens to the public on Oct. 13
- 2013: The CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum hosts its first performance, Ricky Skaggs's Artist in Residence, on Nov. 19
- 2014: The Museum opens its expansion, more than doubling the size of the building, on April 15
- 2015: The Museum opens the exhibition Dylan, Cash and The Nashville Cats in March
- 2015: For the first time, the Museum welcomes more than one million visitors in a calendar year
- 2017: The Museum announces its Community Counts initiative, which provides free museum admission to local youth
- 2018: The Museum opens the exhibit Outlaws & Armadillos: Country's Roaring ‘70s in May
- 2019: The Museum welcomes more than one million visitors for the fifth consecutive year
- 2019: The Museum receives the Governor's Arts Leadership Award from the Tennessee Arts Commission
- "About". Country Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
- Carey, Bill (October 6, 1994). "Old Site to Get New Purpose". Vol. 90, no. 279. The Tennessean. p. 3–A. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
- Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns (2019). Country Music. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 231.
- McCall, Michael (2012). The Encyclopedia of Country Music Second Edition. Oxford University Press. pp. 105–106. ISBN 978-0195395631.
- "Home". Studio B. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
- "Thomas Hart Benton Biography". New Britain Museum of American Art. 2010. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011.
- "Keith Whitley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Joe Galante are headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame".
- Carey, Bill (October 6, 1994). "Hall of Fame Plan Exhibits Star Quality". Vol. 90, no. 279. The Tennessean. pp. 1–A, 3–A. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
- The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Nashville, Tenn.: Country Music Foundation, 1990. ISBN 0-915608-12-X N.B.: The structure as described in this document is the original one that had opened in 1967.
- Official website
- Hatch Show Print
- Historic RCA Studio B
- CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum