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VOL. 36 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 10, 2012

Music museum options expanding

By Judy Sarles

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Nashville’s major music museums are in various stages of development: one will reopen this year, one is expanding, another is slowly progressing, and the last is on the back burner.

Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum

After surviving a couple of blows to its existence, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum (MHFM) is set to re-open this year in its new home at Nashville Municipal Auditorium on Fourth Avenue North.

The museum, which got rolling in downtown Nashville in 2006, was forced to move out of its property four years later to make way for the construction of Nashville’s new convention center.

While a search was conducted for a new location, many of the museum’s storied musical instruments were housed at Soundcheck, a warehouse and rehearsal facility near the Cumberland River. During the flood of 2010, the river’s waters rushed into Soundcheck, saturating MHFM’s instruments. Luckily, nearly all of the instruments were restorable.

Through its exhibits and events, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum honors famous, as well as lesser-known, musicians who played on popular music’s most esteemed recordings. Joe Chambers, MHFM founder and curator, wanted the museum to be ready to open this summer in its new home, where it will be known as the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum at Historic Nashville Municipal Auditorium, but the opening has been delayed.

“It has taken longer than we hoped to get everything satisfied with (Metro) codes,” says Chambers, who is funding the build-out himself. “The main concentration right now is on the museum exhibits.”

The museum is leasing space in the 200,000-square-foot auditorium from Metro government, which operates the auditorium. MHFM’s exhibit hall will be on the venue’s first floor. Metro will continue to schedule concerts and events in the auditorium’s concert arena. The museum will also host concerts and events in the arena, where several well-known musicians intend to perform for the benefit of the museum.

Visitors to the reopened MHFM will see several new additions in its collection, including the guitar Joe South used on his big hits, a jacket Glen Campbell wore on the cover of By the Time I Get to Phoenix, and the guitar Les Paul played on Chester & Lester, the album he made with Chet Atkins.

“We wanted to get something that kind of tied Les Paul to Nashville,” Chambers says.

Over time, the entire auditorium will be upgraded, he says, but without diminishing the much-loved ambiance of the 50-year-old building. The auditorium itself has played an important role in musical history, having hosted the first country music Fan Fairs and Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jams, as well as performances by Motown acts, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and Conway Twitty.

Earlier this year, Metro Council cut about $900,000 in subsidies for Municipal Auditorium ($591,500), Tennessee State Fairgrounds ($200,000) and Nashville Farmers’ Market ($148,800) from Mayor Karl Dean’s budget, which became effective July 1. The lack of the subsidy will not have an immediate impact on the Auditorium, nor at all on MHFM, says Bob Skoney, GM of the Municipal Auditorium.

“The council would like for us, at the end of the year, to kind of evaluate the subsidy that we actually need and have a discussion about it if need be about appropriating a subsidy to those departments,” Skoney says. “So we’ll still act accordingly like we always do and have in the past to run as efficiently as possible, with low expenses, and increase revenues wherever we can.”

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Work has begun on a $75 million expansion of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (CMHFM).

“It is under construction,” says Curtis Lesh, project architect, Tuck Hinton Architects. “The concrete structure is being built right now.”

The approximately 220,000-square-foot expansion is expected to be completed in fall 2013. The CMHFM is currently 140,000 square feet. The expansion will connect to the new Omni Hotel on three levels, although the expansion itself will be six floors.

Working on a Building: Country Music Lives Here, the capital campaign to finance the expansion, recently received a $2.5 million pledge from the Academy of Country Music (ACM). Last year, the Country Music Association (CMA) pledged $10 million to the campaign, whose honorary co-chairs are Country Hall of Fame member Kris Kristofferson and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford. The campaign has acquired about $70 million in cash and pledges so far.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture. The expansion will include the ACM Contemporary Gallery, which will showcase country music’s modern developments and current trends. Other elements of the expansion are the 800-seat CMA theater that will feature concerts, films, lectures and other activities, some geared to Omni Hotel guests; additional archival storage space; and a new educational center.

National Museum of African American Music

Although it is taking several years for the NMAAM to go from a conception to a physical building, progress is being made to establish the only museum in the nation with a committed focus on the entire spectrum of African-American music.

The museum is currently finalizing how it will tell the story of the development of the different genres of African-American music. A committee of eminent scholars, led by Fath Davis Ruffins, curator of African-American History and Culture in the Division of Home & Community Life for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, is generating a thorough depiction of how African-Americans have impacted and influenced American culture through music. The effect of African-American music and musicians on other musical styles and artists will also be examined.

“We’re focusing on America’s music, as influenced by African-Americans,” says Paula Roberts, NMAAM executive director. “Everyone has a favorite song from the classics – like The Temptations’ My Girl to the Jackson 5’s Got to Be There. Many artists like Justin Timberlake, Darius Rucker, Justin Bieber, Bonnie Raitt, and Tim McGraw all express influence on their careers – and their music – from work that has been developed, performed, or impacted by African-Americans. The National Museum of African American Music is a museum focused on telling America’s story through the influence of a people and their music.”

Elements of the most familiar music genres will be featured at NMAAM, such as big band, swing, rhythm & blues, cool jazz, rock ’n’ roll, disco, and techno. But also included will be slightly more obscure categories of music, including folk spirituals, freedom songs, go-go, and neo soul.

“The Museum will serve as the global center for understanding the contributions that African-Americans have made in creating and impacting over 50 musical genres,” says Roberts. “The museum will open eyes, hearts, and minds to the imprint of African-Americans on music across the globe.”

NMAAM, which already has a construction site at Eighth Avenue North and Jefferson Street in the northwest corner of Bicentennial Mall, will be 70,000 square feet in size.

Permanent and temporary exhibits will encompass 16,000 square feet of the facility. Also within the museum will be a research library, a performance hall, an event space, community classrooms, reading rooms, and a museum shop.

Tuck Hinton Architects and Harold Thompson Architects have teamed to design NMAAM, which will be constructed by Skanksa USA.

“We’re in pre-construction stage right now,” Roberts says. “That means there is still design work and development for the facility, which includes exhibits and design. In addition to this step, we must complete our storyline and narrative, which will influence our plans to incorporate education curriculum and programming for schools and also for adult and community programs.”

The museum’s Rhapsody-n-Rhythm fundraising campaign has a goal of $47.5 million for construction, endowment, and initial operations. Roberts wouldn’t reveal how much money has been raised at this point.

“Fundraising is progressing, is a continual process, and has always had momentum,” says Roberts.

NMAAM has reached out to the music community for it to lend a hand in the museum’s development. The community has responded in several ways, including having members serve on NMAAM’s music advisory committee.

Gospel Music Association Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum

A few years ago, the Gospel Music Association had plans to put a museum in Gaylord Entertainment Center (now Bridgestone Arena) to display the history and culture of gospel music and honor inductees into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The plan for a museum is now on hold.

“That would be a longterm plan at this point,” says Jackie Patillo, who became executive director of the Gospel Music Association last August.

However, Patillo expects to attend a Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau meeting this month to discuss the museum and other opportunities for her organization.

Archives intended for the museum are currently housed in a Nashville warehouse. No funds have been raised for the museum.

“The recession really has had a lot to do with our plans,” says Patillo. “We’ve had to shift our focus.”

The association still conducts its Gospel Music Hall of Fame induction and maintains a website. Although the gospel music museum is currently not a top priority for the association, Patillo recognizes what a museum would do for the music genre and its history.

“Gospel music is a true American music art form,” she says. “It’s important to show the legacy of our music, where it’s been. We’ve got many, many artists who have given their lives and talent to sing gospel music.”

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