MXO ‘The Arts Unplugged’: The Start of The National Museum of African American Music!

By Ryan Velez

Posted December 28th 2018


A few years ago, we saw the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, after years of anticipation. WMOT reports on another potential cultural hub for black people that have been in plans since 2002 in Nashville. The current plan is to open things up in December in 2019, but celebrations are already well underway. At one such party, WMOT’s Craig Havighurst got a chance to take a closer look at what was going on.

“This is the Emerging Artist Series at Legends Corner, to get local artists in front of diverse audiences,” said Crystal Hardison, public programs manager explaining a performance by six-piece Nashville band Bizz & Everyday People wearing shirts with the NAMAAM logo. She added that the museum has been doing outreach, education, and events since 2012. “We approach it as a museum without walls. We are able to go out and service the community in that way, so we go to where you are versus you coming to see us.”

“Oh my goodness. I don’t even know if there’s words for it,” she says when talking about anticipation ahead of December 2019. “Just now that it’s almost tangible, actual brick and mortar that people can come to visit us and can actually see the history we’re trying to preserve, it’s an unbelievable feeling.” One of these physical indicators is concrete currently being poured into a massive hole at the future location.

“The floor is actually being poured so we are we are literally on the ground level of the museum which is a really big deal because it took a lot to get to this point,” says Dionne Lucas, the museum’s director of marketing and communications. “We are finalizing contractors for interior design and for fabrication – so we are well on the way to having this thing done. And it’s a very exciting time for us. We think that this story is central to music history and to music culture and because of that we want (the museum) to be right in the center of the city.”

There will be five main galleries covering five core traditions of black music. “Wade In The Water addresses religious music. A Love Supreme addresses jazz,” says Senior Curator Dr. Dina Bennett. She rounds out the big five with a blues gallery called Crossroads, an R&B section called One Nation Under A Groove and a hip-hop gallery to be named later. As broad as that terrain is, encompassing nearly the entirety of popular music, Bennett says her team is focusing the museum’s narrative by letting social history guide them.

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