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National Museum of African American Music Is Getting Closer to Opening In Nashville

Courtesy of the National Museum of African American Music

A museum, two decades in the making, centering on African-American musicians is finally getting close to opening its doors in downtown Nashville in the coming months. As the National Museum of African American Music inches closer to its $50 million funding goal and construction workers labor away to complete the permanent interactive space, H. Beecher Hicks, III, president and CEO of the NMAAM, is anticipating what’s to come.

The influence that Africans Americans have had throughout the history of American music will be chronicled throughout the space in five permanent and temporary exhibits, and a 200-seat theater. According to plans that were unveiled late last year in the Tennessean, the museum space will occupy 56,000 sq. feet and will include artifacts such as “a leopard-print dress once worn by Whitney Houston to Nat King Cole's argyle sweater.” The museum, first conceived of in 2002 and which has hosted events to honor the likes of Nile Rodgers, Patti LaBelle, Charlie Wilson and Kirk Franklin over the last several years, boasts Darius Rucker, CeCe Winans, Keb'Mo and India.Arie as national chairs.

According to Hicks, the permanent exhibits will take visitors from the influence of slavery on American music through present time. It will include “Wade in the Water,” a gallery on religious music that highlights the 1940s-1960s; “Crossroads,” an exhibit on blues and the Great Migration; “Love Supreme,” a gallery on the emergence of jazz; “One Nation Under a Groove,” an exhibit about R&B, funk, techno, disco, go-go and more from the 1960s-1990s/early 2000s; and “The Message,” a space dedicated to hip-hop from its early iterations to today.

Hicks says the museum has met about 75 percent of its fundraising goal and construction on the museum will be completed at the “very end” of 2019 with the museum slated to open either later this year or in early 2020. On Feb. 19, the museum announced it was $1 million closer to its goal thanks to a joint gift from the Regions Foundation and the Mike Curb Foundation.

Next week, the museum expects to release rates and information for members of the community who would like to become “founding members.”

As the museum finalizes its plans, Hicks spoke to Billboard about what to expect.

Billboard: Why Nashville?

H. Beecher Hicks, III: Why not Nashville? Nashville really is America’s music city. We like to say that if you look at it from a little bit of a historical presence, Nashville and Tennessee are like the crossroads of American music. Really, it was born in the South and then at the end of slavery and the beginning of The Great Migration, when our grandparents began to migrate North, whether they were going to Detroit or New York or Los Angeles, they very possibly went through Tennessee. So they left breadcrumbs in Memphis and left breadcrumbs in Nashville and breadcrumbs in Johnson City. Tennessee really, in so many ways, is kind of the crucible center of American music, even though in more modern times it’s been more prominent in other cities. We’re just bringing it back home.

What will the first temporary exhibit be about?

It will be on the Fisk Jubilee Singers and their impact on funding for [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]. In particular, the chorus and glee clubs that are such an important part of the HBCU experience.

You’ve partnered with a few artists, such as Darius Rucker and India.Arie, to get this done. How important were those partnerships for the museum?

We certainly make lots of friends along the way. Like anything else that you’re creating, it’s the one-on-one relationships [that matter]. You kind of get together with folks to kind of see and tell the story. You help them understand what’s in it for them, what’s in it for the culture [and] what’s in it for the community.

Black music has touched every genre of American music. How do you decide what goes into this museum?

We’re very fortunate that we have a skilled staff and a really skilled group of consultants that are working with us. We started out going to ethnomusicologists and music scholars around the country several years ago and asking them to tell us their stories of the music that African Americans have the most impact on around the nation. That was sort of boiled down into a storyline. Then we brought on a senior scholar, a woman by the name of Dr. Portia Maultsby, who is [the lead ethnomusicologist at the museum]. We have since hired a staff of curators who are experts in their own right in blues, jazz and in public history.

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