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The NMAAM in Nashville Traces the Roots and Reach of African American Music

by Rich and Laura Lynch

There is a new kid in town or should we say a new museum in Music City. Everybody has been watching this downtown development with great expectations. Fifth + Broad the mega-multi-use facility is anchored by the National Museum of African American Music. NMAAM is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans. NMAAM's permanent collection includes instruments, photos, recording equipment, sheet music, stage costumes and other important artifacts paired with interactive technology.


The NMAAM has taken its rightful place in the heart of Music City.

NMAAM has been in the works for years. Back in 2002, members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce had suggested establishing a museum to celebrate and preserve the influences that African Americans have had on culture and music. A task force was formed and feasibly studies were done. It had been determined that the museum would be constructed at Jefferson Street but in 2015 it was changed to a prime spot at Fifth + Broadway. Finally, in January of 2021, The National Museum of African American Music opened its doors. NMAAM is located at the intersection of Rep John Lewis Way (formerly 5th Avenue) and Broadway in Nashville. The entrance to the museum is across the street from the historic Ryman Auditorium.

NMAAM's expertly curated collection tells the story of the American soundtrack by integrating history and interactive technology. Over 50 genres of music such as blues, gospel, hip hop, jazz and more have been conceived by African Americans. Merging memorabilia with state of the art tools each gallery is designed to share a different narrative from distinctive groups of artists who have impacted and influenced the world with their music.


Tracing the roots of Jazz at the NMAAM.

The NMAAM tour begins at the Roots Theater where a short film explains how African music came to the States through the slaves. In an effort to maintain their culture the people would dance, drum and sing which over time developed into the music that we know today. In the future the Roots Theater maybe used for live performances but as of this writing (March 2021) there is limited seating.

After the video, visitors are released into the River of Rhythm which is a long hallway that streams into the main galleries. The room also has information panels and videos playing music or relaying history. "Wade In The Water" focuses on spirituals. This music was a way for people to express sorrow along with hope. The songs were prayers to God asking for deliverance. "Crossroads" is all about the blues. Blues was another form in which folks communicated their loneliness and economic hardships. Later the music would have more swagger as some songs spoke about empowerment. The blues often reflected the region it was played in and that is why we have various genres such as Chicago or Delta blues.


Tracing the roots of Gospel at the NMAAM.

"A Love Supreme" centers on jazz. The message of jazz was freedom which was articulated through the improvisational elements of jazz and like the blues jazz progressed into various styles such as bop to swing. "One Nation Under A Groove" ties in the Civil Rights movement to the music from the 1940s to the present. "Message" focuses on urban issues from the 1970s to current with a look at Hip Hop and other artists calling for equality. Collectively each room explains the evolution of African American music traditions and their impacts on local communities and the world.

The National Museum of African American Music effectively uses artifacts, history and modern technology to outline the important contributions that African Americans have made to U.S. culture. Nashville has a number of music themed museums and NMAAM is an exceptional addition to the list and is another fine reason for folks to visit Tennessee's capital city.


Louis Armstrong was a larger than life musical legend - his trumpet is at the NMAAM.

Related Links: For more information on the NMAAM and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - National Museum of African American Music | Fifth + Broadway Opens in Nashville

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