Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium Celebrates 90 Years with Historic Marker at 7th and Union
Dedicated after War World I, the auditorium has served as center for Nashville’s military, political, and musical history
NASHVILLE – Ninety years ago today, the War Memorial Building was dedicated as a monument to the thousands of Tennesseans who fought and died in World War I. In the decades since, the building’s exterior and the elegant acoustic hall known as War Memorial Auditorium have served as the backdrop for some of the region’s most significant military, political, and musical history.
To celebrate that history on the auditorium’s 90th anniversary, a delegation from Nashville’s arts and history communities, led by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, gathered to unveil the design for a historical marker approved by the Tennessee Historical Commission and planned for the corner of 7th Avenue and Union Street.
The delegation included Martha Ingram, charter and current board member for the non-profit Tennessee Perfoming Arts Center (TPAC); Alan Valentine, CEO of the Nashville Symphony; Pete Fisher, Vice President and General Manager of the Grand Ole Opry; Patrick McIntyre, Executive Director of the Tennessee Historical Commission; and Commissioner Bob Oglesby, whose department oversees the historic building.
"This 90th anniversary, I am proud to recognize this beautiful iconic building which suitably reflects Tennessee’s proud past and is beloved for its historic relevance, cultural impact, as well as the memories it evokes," said Commissioner Oglesby. "Like many in Tennessee, I too treasure the War Memorial Auditorium as the setting for warmly remembered shows with family and friends. But this occasion should also be recognized as a great reminder of the importance of being good stewards of our State’s resources. By investing to maintain our valued assets, they can serve current and future generations for many more years to come."
The historical marker highlights the building’s creation, Leopold and Belle Kinney Scholz’s gilded bronze statue of "Victory" in the central courtyard, and the auditorium’s use by both the Nashville Symphony from 1926-1980 and the world-famous Grand Ole Opry from 1939-1943. During the auditorium’s time hosting the Opry, The King of Country Music Roy Acuff became a regular performer, and legends like Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, and Minnie Pearl were inducted. The Opry later moved to the Ryman Auditorium, and the Symphony moved to TPAC in 1980, becoming one of its first resident companies.
Originally seating 2,200 and featuring excellent acoustics, the auditorium’s role in Nashville’s music scene expanded over time. In the 1950s, it served as a frequent stop on the African American Theater Circuit, often called the "Chitlin’ Circuit," and brought artists such as Ray Charles, The Five Satins, and Bo Diddley to Nashville audiences. Later, fans experienced legendary performances by Bette Davis, Liberace, Elton John, David Bowie performing as "Ziggy Stardust," Bette Midler, Billy Joel, the first Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam, Willie Nelson, Barry Manilow, The Eagles, Kitty Wells, R.E.M., Lady Gaga, The Dead Weather, Mumford & Sons, and Robert Plant.
With the most dynamic open floor configuration in Music City, this tradition of presenting diverse musicians continues today, thanks to the State of Tennessee, which owns the building, and TPAC, which manages the auditorium. A renewed focus on emerging artists is featured in a series of short films entitled "The Attic Sessions," in which touring musicians discuss their song craft and perform acoustically in The Attic Lounge, a backstage space remodeled into a hidden and distinctively Nashville room. To learn more, or watch these sessions visit TheAtticSessions.com.
Located south of the state capitol and in the heart of downtown Nashville, War Memorial Auditorium and its campus also have served as the site of significant military and political events. Before Legislative Plaza was constructed, rallies to send and welcome home those who served in World War II filled Capitol Boulevard. Several candidates campaigned on site, including Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. On September 28, 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged Nashville’s leadership in the Civil Rights movement, announcing from the War Memorial Auditorium stage that he "came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community."
"War Memorial Auditorium marks a pivotal place not only in downtown Nashville but in our state’s rich history," said Brent Hyams, TPAC’s chief operating officer. "Along with the many performers and political figures who have graced its stage, the historical marker we’ll soon install serves as a lasting reminder and tribute to this building’s remarkable legacy and invites future audiences to enjoy this incredible story as it continues to unfold."
As Patrick McIntyre, Jr. of the Tennessee Historical Commission explains, "The War Memorial Auditorium is one of Tennessee's finest public spaces. The intent of the architect and builders was to enrich Nashville for generations to come, and today the building is as vibrant and valuable as when it opened in 1925."
Text of the Historical Marker
3 A 226
WAR MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM
"In 1925, Tennessee, Davidson County, and Nashville dedicated the War Memorial Auditorium as an enduring tribute to their sons and daughters who served the nation on land, sea, and in the air during the First World War. The division of history of the Department of Education collected the names of servicemen who died and whose names would be placed on the bronze plaques that were placed on the building circa 1929. Leopold and Belle Kinney Scholz’s gilded bronze Victory statue, part of the original design, was dedicated in 1931. Originally seating 2,200 and featuring excellent acoustics, the auditorium became the performance home of the Nashville Symphony from 1926 to 1980, the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1939 to 1943, and a frequent stop on the African American Theater Circuit in the 1950s."
Click for photos of War Memorial Auditorium.
To hear about upcoming shows and events at War Memorial Auditorium, visit WMARocks.com and follow along at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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Since its dedication in 1925, War Memorial Auditorium has earned a stellar reputation with artists and audiences alike for its world-class acoustics; open floor and seated configurations; and charming neoclassical aesthetic. The venue has served as home to the Nashville Symphony (1926-1980) and the Grand Ole Opry (1939-1943), and it remains a premier concert venue for Nashville. Recognized for its distinctive architectural design, War Memorial Auditorium was originally built to honor the Tennesseans who fought and died in the First World War (1914-1918), and the venue’s emblem, designed by renowned American sculptor and Tennessee Native Belle Kinney, is carefully crafted after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, signifying victory after the war.