For over 130 years, Nashville has evolved into the world’s premier Music City. From the 1800s when the Fisk Jubilee Singers travelled across continents spreading their music, to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and so many others building the foundation of America’s most vibrant music scene. Today, the evolution continues as artists like The Black Keys, Eric Church and Kings of Leon break new ground in the city they all call home. We’ve created a one-hour documentary that tells this story in its entirety through the eyes of the musicians, songwriters, producers and artists who live and breathe the inspiration of this great city.
In the end, this is a film rooted in authenticity. A story filled with passion and truth. A film made simply for the love of music.
Best known as a piano player, Ben Folds first moved to Nashville in 1990 to work as a session drummer. He went on to head up the eponymous, Ben Folds Five, which played what Ben calls “punk rock for sissies”. Ben toured around the world with the band and as a solo artist while releasing a combined seven studio albums. He currently lives in Nashville, where he owns and makes music at the historic RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios, more commonly known as RCA Studio A.
Born James William Anderson, many know this legendary country music artist and songwriter simply as Whisperin’ Bill because of his breathy, warm voice. Throughout his long career, he released more than 40 studio albums, had seven No. 1 hits as a performer and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years. Bill also co-wrote the 2005 and 2007 CMA Songs of the Year with “Whiskey Lullaby” performed by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, and “Give It Away” performed by George Strait.
Billy Cox learned to play the blues on the bass guitar growing up in Philly. When he met Jimi Hendrix while serving in the Army, the two became friends for life. Soon after, the pair moved to Nashville and started playing bars as the King Kasuals. They would eventually tour the world together with The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys. Billy went on to play bass for the Charlie Daniels Band, Lou Rawls, Etta James and Little Richard. He also released three solo albums.
The Black Keys
Nashville transplants Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney formed the blues-rock band, The Black Keys, back in 2001, cutting records out of Carney’s basement in Akron, Ohio. After near-constant touring and several album releases still hadn’t earned them radio play, the duo made the controversial decision to license their music, appearing in commercials for Nissan, HTC and others. Initially worried they’d be seen as sell-outs, the decision turned out to be a good one – helping to grow their fan base and eventually landing them top spots on the charts.
In 1992, Brett James went from medical school to making music after Tim DuBois, President of Arista Records, offered him a record deal if he moved to Nashville. After his solo stint, Brett started writing songs for other artists and cranked out eleven No. 1 hits including the Grammy-award winning “Jesus, Take the Wheel” performed by Carrie Underwood. In the last decade alone, the singer, songwriter and producer was twice named ASCAP Songwriter of the Year and saw more than 300 of his songs recorded.
Underneath his signature beard and cowboy hat lies a man who has made and performed country and southern rock music since the 50s. In his long career, Charlie Daniels released more than 30 studio albums, won a Grammy for Best Vocal Performance and was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. But he’s probably best known for a fiddle duel with the devil in his famed 1979 ballad, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”. Daniels currently lives in Mount Juliet, TN just a few minutes east of Nashville.
The Civil Wars
This duo’s haunting harmonies and poignant lyrics came about after a chance meeting in Nashville. Joy Williams and John Paul White were paired together at a songwriting session in 2008 where they discovered an almost instant musical chemistry. Their debut album, “Barton Hollow”, took them from relative unknowns to a worldwide tour with Adele, who called them the best band she’s ever heard live.
Damien Horne started singing at a Salvation Army Church in his hometown, but his music career in Nashville started as a homeless singer-songwriter playing on a downtown street corner. His soulful blend of pop, R&B and rock caught the ear of Big & Rich’s John Rich who took him under his wing. Damien went on to release his first full-length album, “Somebody’s Hero”, and sign a record deal. He is currently a member of the trio The FARM and is also an ordained minister.
Known for his low, reverberant and twangy guitar sound, Duane Eddy made his name as a guitar icon in the late 1950s. Some of Duane’s biggest hits include “Rebel Rouser”, “Peter Gunn” and “Because They’re Young”. In addition to winning a Grammy award and selling more than 12 million records, he was the first rock and roll artist to have a signature model guitar. Duane still lives in Nashville, where the Mayor bestowed upon him the title, “The Titan of Twang”.
Her distinctive voice and long, storied career make Emmylou Harris one of the most well-known and influential women in music. She went from learning to play songs by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez to racking up 14 No. 1 singles of her own that span the folk, country, bluegrass, rock and even pop genres. She’s lived in Nashville since 1983 and has won 12 Grammys, released 26 studio albums, sold more than 5.5 million records in the U.S. and is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Eric Church spent his high school years playing Jimmy Buffett covers in smoky dive bars. After graduating college, Eric moved to Nashville to pursue his love of making music. He went on to develop a unique country sound that’s a little bit southern rock and a whole lot of attitude. His first two albums were certified gold and his third album, “Chief”, was certified platinum, reached No. 1 on the charts and won CMA Album of the Year.
Fisk Jubilee Singers
Music City may well owe its nickname to the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Nashville’s Fisk University originally created this student a cappella ensemble in 1871 to raise money for the historically black university. These intrepid singers, mostly comprised of former slaves, raised enough money to help construct the school's first permanent building. The group started by singing traditional Negro spirituals and went on to break racial barriers around the world. It’s a legacy they still carry on today.
Jessi Alexander & Jon Randall
Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall are not only husband and wife – they’re both singer-songwriters in Nashville. When Jessi first moved to Nashville, her friends submitted her demo to a best-unsigned-artist competition. She won and landed a record deal. Jessi co-wrote each track on her debut album along with a few songs for Miley Cyrus and the Hannah Montana franchise. Jon is a two-time Grammy award winner who released four studio albums as a solo artist and co-wrote the Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss hit, “Whiskey Lullaby”. The CMA named it the 2004 Song of the Year.
John McBride moved to Nashville in 1989 and quickly landed a job as a sound engineer for country music legend Garth Brooks. He went on to become Garth’s concert production manager. John is currently the owner and general manager of Blackbird Studio in Berry Hill, a city just minutes from downtown Nashville. His long list of album credits include artists from a variety of genres from his wife, Martina McBride, to Stevie Nicks to Garth Brooks and even fellow Nashville resident Ke$ha.
Kellie Pickler’s music career rocketed to success when she competed and finished in the top 6 of “American Idol”. Her sweet, southern twang won over fans and helped her debut album, “Small Town Girl”, race up the charts to be certified gold. She went on to release two more albums and land a top-ten hit with “Best Days of Your Life”, which she co-wrote with Taylor Swift. Kellie is currently co-hosting daytime talk show “Pickler & Ben”.
Kings Of Leon
Long before their meteoric rise to fame, the Kings of Leon were just Caleb and Nathan Followill singing “pop country” songs a cappella at Nashville’s famed Bluebird Café. After landing a record deal with RCA, the duo added their younger brother, Jared, and cousin Matthew to form the band. Despite their superstar status overseas, the Kings of Leon remained relatively unheard of in the U.S. until the release of their fourth album, “Only By The Night”, with hits like “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody.”
Kris Kristofferson was a Golden Gloves Boxer, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Army Captain. But to pursue his love for music, he left all that behind and became a janitor at a Nashville recording studio. He started writing songs for other musicians eventually penning song-of-the-year hits with “Me And Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. From there, he launched a solo career that included 19 studio albums. Kristofferson also embarked on an acting career that included a Golden Globe Award and appearances in all three of the “Blade” films.
When you’re an icon, one name can say it all. Manuel is a costumer and an artist who creates wearable works of art for his clients that include musicians, actors, kings and presidents. He even created the dark suits and signature look that made Johnny Cash “the man in black”. That’s why they call him the “Rhinestone Rembrandt”. Manuel was born in Mexico and moved to Nashville in 1989 where you can still find him and his boutique today.
One of Martina McBride’s first jobs in Nashville was selling t-shirts for Garth Brooks. But her incredible voice and pop-country sound soon took her from merch to mainstream. Martina quickly rose to the top of the charts, where she’s stayed for the last two decades. She landed five No. 1 hits, sold more than 14 million albums and earned seven certified platinum albums. Martina is also a Grammy award winner and was named CMA Vocalist of the Year four times and ACM Top Female Vocalist three times.
Marty first came to Nashville to visit a friend in 1972 and landed a job touring with Lester Flatt’s band. He went on to tour with Johnny Cash’s band before launching a solo career as a singer-songwriter that includes five Grammys, several gold albums and a platinum album. Marty’s eclectic musical style blends traditional country music with rock, honky-tonk and rockabilly to create a wide array of music. Marty lives in Nashville where he remains a die-hard country music fan, a historian and an incredible photographer.
Michael W. Smith
At the urging of a friend who was a session musician, Michael W. Smith moved to Nashville in 1978. He played keyboard with a few bands including Amy Grant’s before becoming one of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music. His success also crossed over to mainstream pop as he racked up 31 No. 1 hits, 16 gold certified albums, six platinum certified albums and three Grammy awards as a solo artist. Michael currently resides on a farm on the outskirts of Nashville.
Nashville is a long way from Peter Frampton’s hometown of Bromley, England. But the English singer, songwriter and musician calls it his second home. Peter started playing with the bands Humble Pie and The Herd before embarking on a solo career that produced the iconic hits “Baby, I Love Your Way” and “Do You Feel Like I Do”. Those tracks were on his live album, “Frampton Comes Alive”, which is still one of the top selling live records of all time. It was certified eight times platinum and sold six million copies in the U.S. alone.
Rivers Rutherford’s big break came when he jumped a fence to pitch a song to producer Chips Moman. The brazen move worked and soon The Highwaymen, composed of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, recorded his song “American Remains”. From there, Rutherford went on to write six No. 1 hits including “Ain’t Nothing ‘bout You” by Brooks & Dunn as well as “Living in Fast Forward” by Kenny Chesney. Rivers moved to Nashville in 1993 where he still lives and writes songs.
Guitar player, songwriter and producer Steve Cropper got his first guitar at age 14. By age 20, he had a top-five hit with his band the Mark-Keys. In time, Rolling Stone named him its 36th greatest guitarist of all time. Steve went on to found the influential Booker T & the M.G.’s before joining The Blues Brothers Band. He also penned many hits including co-writing Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” and Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour”. Steve currently owns and works at Insomnia Studio in Nashville.
Ten Out of Tenn
While out on tour, Kristin and Trent Dabbs realized how much they liked making music with their friends. So they created the singer-songwriter super group Ten Out Of Tenn. It’s a collective of ten Nashville artists who play and tour together while breaking the stereotype of Nashville music as cowboy hats and honky-tonk. The collective currently includes artists Amy Stroup, Gabe Dixon, Katie Herzig, K.S. Rhoads, Tyler James, Matthew Perryman Jones, Trent Dabbs, Butterfly Boucher, Jeremy Lister and Andrew Belle, plus drummer, Will Sayles.
Tim was told if you’re going to hunt tigers, you have to go where the tigers are. So he moved to Nashville in 1980 to pursue his dream of making music. Tim started by playing with a few bands before shifting toward songwriting and writing hits for Keith Whitley, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Jo Dee Messina and Alan Jackson. He also wrote Tim McGraw’s No. 1 hit “Live Like You Were Dying”, which won CMA and Grammy awards for Song of the Year. Tim currently runs a publishing company that he started with a few partners in Nashville.
Tommy Sims moved to Nashville in the late 80s and started fusing gospel, soul and folk together. You can see it in the list of artists who recorded his songs including: Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, Garth Brooks, Cher, BlackStreet, Toni Braxton and BabyFace. Tommy is probably best known for co-writing Eric Clapton’s No. 1 hit “Change the World”. The tune was featured in the movie “Phenomenon” and won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1997. Tommy also played bass for Bruce Springsteen and released a solo album.
Few in the music industry have accomplished more than longtime Nashville resident and legendary country singer-songwriter Vince Gill. But you can often find him sitting in with friends at small shows around Nashville. His long and remarkable career includes more than 20 studio albums, 20 Grammys, 18 CMA awards and selling more than 26 million albums. Vince is married to Nashville native and fellow music icon Amy Grant. You can catch him playing with The Time Jumpers most Monday nights at 3rd & Lindsley.
Director of Photography
The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
Best Boy Electrician
Contact Color and Post
Assistant Confrom Artist
Audio Post Production
Nancie Yoo Kang
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Fisk University Archives
Grand Ole Opry
Jim McGuire Photography
Johnny Cash Museum
The Owen Bradley Family
The Wade Brothers
Video & film archival footage
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Grand Ole Opry
Jeff the Brotherhood
Johnny Cash Show
Kings of Leon
The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
The Black Keys
3rd & Lindsley
Charlie Daniels Studio
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Fiddle & Steel Guitar Bar
Grand Ole Opry
Hatch Show Print
Historic RCA Studio B
Musicians Hall of Fame
Q Prime South
Schermerhorn Symphony Center
Alison Auerbach, Public Relations
Joe and Linda Chambers
Dr. Paul Kwami