The Story of Music City

From its very beginnings, Nashville grew from a foundation built on music. Music has been the common thread connecting the soul of the city and its people. And visitors have ventured here to experience the music that weaves a fundamental pattern in its cultural, business, and social fabric.

The Building of Music City

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. 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 people who were formerly enslaved 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 a "City of Music.”

In the 1930s, not far from Fisk University, Jefferson Street was quickly becoming a hub for entertainment, music, and nightlife. Speakeasies, supperclubs, dance halls, nightclubs, and more could be found along the popular road, home to Nashville’s rhythm and blues scene. In the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox held a residency at Club Del Morocco on Jefferson Street, and Nashville is the city Jimi credits for teaching him how to really play. The 1960s also saw the likes of Otis Redding, Little Richard, Etta James (the live Etta James Rocks the House was recorded at the New Era club in Nashville), and so many more play and sing in the clubs lining the street. Jefferson Street is credited with the emergence of Nashville’s R&B music.

Historic Venues

The most famous music venue in Nashville, the Ryman Auditorium, was built in 1892 when riverboat captain Tom Ryman completed what was originally named the ”Union Gospel Tabernacle”. When it opened it was the largest auditorium south of the Ohio River. It is nicknamed the “Carnegie Hall of the South” and attracts musicians and fans from all over the world. The Ryman has received Pollstar magazine’s prestigious “Theater of the Year” award fourteen times as the best auditorium in the nation to experience live music.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were one of the first musical concerts in the building which was renamed in honor of Captain Ryman after his death in 1904.

The Ryman was managed by Lula Naff from 1904-1955 and she booked the top musical acts of the era in the building including Marian Anderson, Caruso, Sandra Bernhardt, Louis Armstrong, John Philip Sousa, and Nat King Cole.

It was Lula Naff in 1943 who brought the Grand Ole Opry (which started in 1925) into the Ryman every weekend where it stayed until 1974. Country Music Hall of Fame stars Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, and Elvis all performed at the Opry on the Ryman stage for the first time.

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, in continuous production for more than 100 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.

In December 1945 when Bill Monroe played his mandolin at the Ryman with Lester Flatt playing guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Howard Watts on bass a new musical genre of bluegrass music were created on the famous stage. Banjo player Earl Scruggs later joined the group.

Today the Ryman celebrates more than 130 years as one of the most famous concert venues in America where stars who normally play arenas and even stadiums perform in the 2,362-seat venue. The long list of famous Ryman performers includes Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Paul Simon, The Foo Fighters, Lizzo, Jack White, James Brown, Taylor Swift, and Harry Styles.

The Ryman is also open for daily tours where visitors can stand on its famous stage, watch a film of the history of the building, view clothes of Opry performers, and see Ryman memorabilia.

How the Legacy Continues

Nashville has also long been known as the “Songwriting Capital of the World.” Songwriters from all over the globe come to Music City to learn the art and share their passion for 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 the inspiration behind their songs. Nashville Songwriters Association International, NSAI, which fosters the art of songwriting and works to protect artists’ rights, is headquartered here. The annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival puts these songwriters somewhere they’re not used 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 has taken country music to a new level of acclaim and recognition. After ABC had the initial run, CMT saved the Nashville TV show and became its new home for the last 2 seasons with much of the show filmed right here in Music City, achieving worldwide popularity. The gospel music series hosted by Nashville’s Bobby Jones on Black Entertainment Television was cable’s longest-running program. Bobby Jones Gospel came to an end in 2017 after 37 successful 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, Post Malone, Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Michael Buble, among many others, have come to Music City to write and record. Names like Kings of Leon, Kristin Chenoweth, Justin Timberlake, The Black Keys, Michael McDonald, India.Arie, Keb’ Mo’, Sheryl Crow, Paramore, The Black Keys, and Jack White have chosen to call the Nashville area home.

Nashville is home to United Record Pressing, North America’s largest volume-producing vinyl record plant. Opened in 1949, United Record Pressing has pressed vinyl records for everyone from Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles to Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, and Ludacris.

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home to the renowned, GRAMMY award-winning Nashville Symphony, anchors the downtown end of the recently designated Music Mile. The Music Mile is a symbolic stretch of roadway connecting the Symphony Center with the music district of Music Row, the vibrant new entertainment venues on Demonbreun Street, the Frist Art Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Music City Walk of Fame, and the Bridgestone Arena. The Music Mile perfectly illustrates how the music of Music City is indeed a common thread throughout the business, cultural, and entertainment sectors of Nashville.

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. With more than 180 music venues around town ranging from large arenas and concert halls to small clubs and featuring nearly every genre of music, it’s easy to see why this is the city that “music calls home.”

Nashville’s connection to music is unequaled, 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.