How Nashville Became Music City
From its very beginnings, Nashville grew from a foundation built on music. Music has been the common thread connecting the life and soul of the city and its people. And visitors have ventured here to experience the music that weaves such a fundamental pattern in the city’s cultural, business, and social fabric.
Nashville’s earliest settlers celebrated in the late 1700s with fiddle tunes and buck dancing after safely disembarking on the shores of the Cumberland River, a spot now commemorated on First Avenue North with a replica of the original Fort Nashborough. Nashville’s first “celebrity,” the noted frontiersman and Congressman Davy Crockett was known far and wide for his colorful stories and fiddle playing.
As the 1800s unfolded, Nashville grew to become a national center for music publishing. The first around-the-world tour by a musical act was by the Fisk Jubilee Singers from Nashville’s Fisk University. Their efforts helped fund the school’s mission of educating freed slaves after the Civil War - and also put Nashville on the map as a global music center. In fact, upon playing for the Queen of England, the queen stated the Fisk Jubilee Singers must come from the “Music City.”
In 1897, a group of Confederate veterans chose Nashville as the site of a massive reunion. The event was held at the former tabernacle that would later become known as the Ryman Auditorium. So many former Confederate soldiers poured into town that a new balcony was built inside the tabernacle to accommodate their great numbers. It was dubbed “The Confederate Gallery,” a designation still visible today as the Ryman continues to host an array of musical events.
Before even the Ryman became known as the downtown home of the Grand Ole Opry, it already enjoyed a national reputation. Enrico Caruso, John Philip Sousa, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra gave roof-raising performances there that earned the Ryman the nickname “Carnegie Hall of the South.” The Ryman’s unrivaled acoustic qualities continue today - it has received Pollstar magazine’s prestigious “Theater of the Year” award consecutively for the past four years as the best auditorium in the nation to experience live music.
In 1925, the establishment of radio station WSM and its launch of the broadcast that would be called the Grand Ole Opry further secured Nashville’s reputation as a musical center and sparked its durable nickname of “Music City.” The Opry, still staged live every week, is America’s longest-running radio show that has been in continuous production for more than 85 years. It ignited the careers of hundreds of country stars and lit the fuse for Nashville to explode into a geographic center for touring and recording. The modern-day empire of Music Row, a collection of recording studios, record labels, entertainment offices, and other music-associated businesses, populates the area around 16th and 17th Avenues South.
Nashville has also long been known as the “Songwriting Capital of the World.” Songwriters from all over the world come to Music City to learn the art and share their passion of songwriting. The famous Bluebird Cafe showcases songwriters performing their original music in an intimate “in-the-round” setting that was created in Nashville and allows them to share the stories of inspiration behind their songs. Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), which fosters the art of songwriting and works to protect writers’ rights, is headquartered here. The annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival puts these songwriters somewhere they’re not use to being, in the spotlight. Over the course of five days, more than 300 songwriters perform at venues around town.
In recent years, cable television has broadcast Music City’s stars and music to the world. CMT and GAC have taken country music to a new level of acclaim and recognition. The gospel music series hosted by Nashville’s Bobby Jones on Black Entertainment Television is now cable’s longest-running program. And recently, the city hit Primetime with the ABC show “Nashville,” which has brought a new wave of fans to the city and its music.
Over the years, Nashville has also become a hub for pop, rock, bluegrass, Americana, jazz, classical, contemporary Christian, blues, and soul music. Rolling Stone gave Nashville the title of “Best Music Scene.” Artists like Robert Plant, Kid Rock, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, and Michael Bublé, among many others, have come to Music City to write and record. Names like Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, Taylor Swift, Kesha, Michael McDonald, Keb’ Mo’, Sheryl Crow, Paramore, Hot Chelle Rae, and Jack White have chosen to call Nashville home. The vast number of recording studios, music publishers, record labels, and studio musicians continue to draw in musicians of all genres. In fact, Nashville has the highest concentration of people working in the music industry per capita than anywhere else in the world. These musicians are the city’s greatest spokesmen, sharing their love for the city and its music with the world.
Live music can be seen and heard every day and night of the week in Nashville. The world-famous honky tonks, located on Broadway, offer free live music 365 days a year. And with more than 130 music venues around town ranging from large arenas and concert halls to small clubs, featuring nearly every genre of music, it’s easy to see why this is the city that “music calls home.”
Music festivals and events fill Nashville’s calendar throughout the year. From large festivals such as the CMA Music Festival and Bonnaroo to events like the CMA and CMT Awards, Nashville continues to be a place for the biggest names in music to perform.
Nashville proudly proclaims itself to be Music City and is making strategic efforts to continue to foster young musicians and entice musicians of all genres to write, record, and live here. The Music City Music Council was formed to strategically grow and strengthen Nashville’s creative community.
There’s truly no other place in the world like Nashville. Its connection to music is unequalled, and its reputation as Music City has been consistently proven for over 200 years. Welcome to the city where music is written, recorded, and performed every single day. Welcome to Music City.