While perusing Chicago Defender, I came across an article from September of 2011 that announced plans to construct the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee. The article states that the museum “will focus on the way African Americans have influenced almost every genre of American music – from rock ‘n’ roll, to country, to rhythm and blues and gospel”. I was pleasantly surprised that The Associated Press recognized genres such as rock ‘n’ roll and country that are not stereotypically associated with African American music but are very influenced by contributions from African American musicians and traditions.
This draws parallels to Rhiannon Gidden’s “Community and Connection,” Keynote Speech at 2017 International Bluegrass Music Association Conference, which the class watched and read earlier in the semester. In her speech, Giddens identifies the roots of bluegrass as a mixture of a variety of traditions besides the commonly believed Scottish-Irish origins, such as African American and Native American sources hundreds of years in the making. The use of the banjo in bluegrass music especially derives from African American musicking, according to Giddens, and has helped to launch the genre to international recognition and success.
Now that over a decade has passed since the Chicago Defender article was written, the National Museum of African American Music has transitioned from an idea into a fully-built establishment that thrives in the heart of Nashville. While the Chicago Defender article predicted the museum would open in 2013, it never actually opened until January 2021. That is an eight year difference! Although the COVID-19 pandemic almost certainly played a part in the delay of opening the museum, there must have been other factors that postponed the opening or construction of the museum before the pandemic began. I wonder if this could have something to do with the research and exhibit-making process taking longer than expected?
Interestingly, the “Galleries” page of the official website for the National Museum of African American Music states that it is “the only museum dedicated to educating, preserving and celebrating more than 50 music genres and styles that were created, influenced, and/or inspired by African Americans, including spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop.” This is an interesting dichotomy in regards to the Chicago Defender article in that the museum’s website specifically names and focuses on stereotypically African American genres of music. The two exhibits in the museum that are currently active (outside of the main Rivers of Rhythm experience that is the central focus of the museum) focus on spirituals and the blues. This leads me to believe that although the museum is probably a great educational resource for learning about stereotypically African American musical traditions, it may not shed light on the other genres of music (such as bluegrass) that African Americans also have contributed to and influenced.
rtmadmincd. “Nashville Museum on African American Music Planned.” Chicago Defender, Real Times Media, 11 Sept. 2011, https://chicagodefender.com/nashville-museum-on-african-american-music-planned/.
“Galleries.” National Museum of African American Music, Tennessee Arts Commission, https://www.nmaam.org/galleries.
Povelones, Robert. “Rhiannon Giddens Keynote Address – IBMA Business Conference 2017.” IBMA, 26 Apr. 2021, https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/.