Diversity in Nashville

Did You Know?

Take the time to learn interesting facts about Nashville's Black History.

Firsts | Facts | Figures

From legendary performers to influential leaders, learn how Black History helped shape the city of music.

Notable "Firsts":
  • Nashville is the FIRST Southern city to desegregate public facilities.
  • Justice Adolfo A. Birch Jr. was the FIRST African American to serve as Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court – and father of Adolfo A. Birch III, SVP & Chief External Affairs Officer for the Tennessee Titans.
  • Attorney Avon Williams (name of TSU’s downtown campus) was the FIRST African American senator to be elected in the state. He was also a cousin of Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall (the FIRST African American Supreme Court Justice).
  • Fisk University is the FIRST institution of higher learning in Nashville.
  • The Fisk Jubilee Singers® are the FIRST African American ensemble to export the Negro spiritual to global stage.
  • The Fisk Jubilee Singers® are the FIRST collegiate music group to win a Grammy. This was during the same year the ensemble celebrated its 150th anniversary.
  • The FIRST gym built for African Americans in the country is located at Fisk University.
  • Fisk University was the FIRST HBCU to have a NCAA women’s gymnastics team.
  • Fisk University hosted a panel discussion on January 14th featuring all six Black female head coaches from around the country representing the following collegiate gymnastics teams: Brown, Fisk, Iowa State, Rutgers, Talladega, and William & Mary. This was the FIRST time these leaders would assemble in this manner. The historic gymnastics meet between all six college teams on MLK Day was canceled due to weather. The event was to occur at Vanderbilt University’s Memorial Gym, where Candice Lee is the institution's FIRST Black woman Athletic Director.
  • The Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands is the FIRST collegiate marching band to win not one but two Grammys. Find out more about the “Band of Firsts".
  • Tennessee State University is the FIRST HBCU to offer men’s ice hockey at the collegiate level.
  • The FIRST public park built for African Americans in the country is Hadley Park in Nashville, located near TSU’s campus.
  • The National Museum of African American Music is the FIRST and only museum of its kind in the world dedicated to the education, preservation, and celebration of Black music and its influence on over 50+ genres and sub-genres of American music.
Interesting Facts:
  1. The Bijou Theater on Fourth Avenue North first began hosting Black performers in the 1920s.
  2. Fort Negley is the largest inland stone fortification built during the Civil War.
  3. Night Train is a two-disc compilation of R&B songs from 1945-1970. Produced at Nashville’s WLAC-TV studios, “Night Train” predated “Soul Train” by five years, and was the first television program to feature an all-Black cast.
  4. Nashville is home to four Historically Black Colleges & Universities that gave educational opportunities for many African Americans who were once legally denied an education - American Baptist College, Fisk University, Meharry Medical College, and Tennessee State University.
  5. When the leaders from American Baptist College needed foot soldiers for the movement, they knew they could get several from Elliott Hall at Tennessee State University. Articles from The Tennessean on the days following the sit-ins posted students’ names and addresses. Seventy-nine students were arrested, and 50 were from TSU.
  6. The Morris Memorial Building is now the only extant building in the downtown core connected with Black enterprise —A monument of sorts to achievement by Black Nashville on its own terms, particularly in a time when every power structure was aligned against such accomplishments. The Morris Memorial Building is a historic building, built in the 1920s for the African American National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
Key Figures/Groups:
  1. Aaron Douglas
    In 1944, he concluded his art career by founding the Art Department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He taught visual art classes at Fisk until his retirement in 1966. During his tenure as a professor in the Art Department, he was the founding director of the Carl Van Vechten Gallery of Fine Arts, which included both white and African American art in an effort to educate students on being an artist in a segregated American South. Douglas is known as a prominent leader in modern African-American art whose work influenced artists for years to come.
  2. Alice Randall
    Author, songwriter, and the first African American woman to co-write a number-one country hit.
  3. Anne Holt
    The first woman, the first African American, and the first news anchor to receive the Donald G. Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award from the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters.
  4. Aretha Franklin
    After making the jump from gospel to secular music in 1960, Aretha Franklin’s earliest years as an R&B singer included a four-night run at The New Era Club on Jefferson Street.
  5. Bobby Hebb
    A Nashville native who wrote and recorded the classic “Sunny,” which reached No. 2 on the pop chart in 1966, and led to him opening for the Beatles on their final tour.
  6. Candice Storey Lee
    Vanderbilt University Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletics Director, Vanderbilt University’s first female athletic director, and the first African American woman to head an SEC athletics program.
  7. Carrie Gentry
    A Civil Rights Activist and influential in the effort to desegregate Nashville and one of the first African American members of the Davidson County Democratic Party’s Women Club.
  8. Charley Pride
    A true country music legend became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1993.
  9. A. Cherrie Epps
    Former President/CEO of Meharry Medical College, the only African American woman with a Ph.D. degree to become Dean of a U.S. medical school.
  10. Dorothy L. Brown
    Surgeon and first African American woman elected to Tennessee’s House of Representatives.
  11. Earl Gaines
    Born in Alabama and relocated to Nashville. Famous American Soul and electric blues singer.
  12. Etta James
    In 1963, over two nights at Nashville’s New Era Club, the singer recorded her live album, “Etta James Rocks the House.” James was one of the countless Black superstars who performed in Nashville’s famed R&B clubs, making the city a top destination on the so-called “Chitlin Circuit” in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
  13. Fisk Jubilee Singers
    Fisk treasurer George Leonard White assembled a group of nine members in 1871 and booked a tour to raise money for the school. It introduced the world music Black Americans made for themselves. They had raised $50,000 for the university and with it, they constructed Jubilee Hall, the South’s first permanent structure built for the education of Black students, the Fisk Memorial Chapel, completed in 1892, and more. A century and a half later, the group still survives, rejuvenating itself with new student members each year.
  14. Frank Howard
    A popular vocalist and a staple on the Jefferson Street music scene.
  15. Freddie Waters
    Nashville musician whose career began in the mid-1960s as lead singer for a vocal group called the Hytones.
  16. Glenda Baskin Glover
    A woman of many, Glenda is Tennessee State University President, certified public accountant, an attorney, and is one of two African American women to hold the Ph.D.-CPA-JD combination in the nation.
  17. Higgins Bond
    Freelance Illustrator and Fine Artist, the first African American woman ever to illustrate a stamp for the U.S. Postal Service
  18. Inez Crutchfield
    First African American woman to serve as a Representative for Tennessee on the Democratic National Committee, and first African American woman to serve as president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Davidson County.
  19. Jimi Hendrix
    Came to Nashville in 1962 and scored a residency at Club Del Morocco with his band, The King Kasuals, and lived rent-free in an apartment above a Jefferson Street beauty school. A 22-year-old Hendrix made his television debut backing up soul duo Buddy & Stacey. The show was “Night Train.”
  20. John Lewis
    Participated in student-led sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in downtown Nashville, as well as other nonviolent protests aimed at dismantling the racist systems of the Jim Crow era.
  21. Little Richard
    Stayed in Nashville for long, lucrative stretches, performing at the New Era Club and Club Revillot.
  22. Lorenzo Washington
    Opened Jefferson Street Sound Museum in 2010 to house all of Jefferson Street’s musical history. The building also houses a production studio and rehearsal space for the next generation of Jefferson Street musicians.
  23. Martin Luther King Jr.
    Spoke during the Impact Symposium at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee on May 4, 1964.
  24. Oprah Winfrey
    Got her start in Nashville as a female anchor at WTVF while she was a student at Tennessee State University.
  25. Ray Charles
    In 1959, Ray Charles and his band thrilled the crowd at Maceo’s on Jefferson Street - the same year he’d have his biggest crossover hit yet with “What’d I Say.”
  26. Robert Knight
    A soul singer and Nashville-area native recorded the pop hit “Everlasting Love” – written by Buzz Cason and Mac Gayden in Music City.
  27. Thelma Harper
    The first African American woman elected to the Tennessee Senate.
  28. Z. Alexander Looby
    Home at 2012 Meharry Blvd was bombed and led directly to the silent march culminating in Nashville’s famous colloquy with Mayor West.