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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 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 its cultural, business and social fabric.

The Beginning

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.

The Name Music City

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.”

What is a Honky Tonk?

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 150 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.”

Facts & Trivia

  • Nashville is known worldwide as “Music City” because WSM radio announcer David Cobb referred to Nashville with that nickname in 1950 on Red Foley’s NBC radio broadcast.
  • Elvis Presley recorded more than 250 of his songs at RCA’s Studio B on Music Row. The red, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage: Home of the People’s President blue and green lights found in the studio today are remnants from one of Elvis’ Christmas albums. Unable to get into the holiday spirit while recording in July, he was having trouble finishing the album. The crew solved the problem by installing holiday-colored lights, putting up an artificial Christmas tree in the corner, and cranking the air conditioner up as high as it would go to create a festive atmosphere.
  • Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center contains nine acres of indoor gardens complete with a 44-foot cascading waterfall. It is the largest non-gaming property in the U.S.
  • The Hermitage, Home of President Andrew Jackson, boasts a driveway in the shape of a guitar. Legend says that the driveway was so shaped to please his daughter-in-law Emily. Nashvillians like to think it was a sign of good things to come.
  • During prohibition in the 1930s, many of the local printers established boot-legging in their basements located in downtown’s Printers Alley. When alcohol was legal once again, the bars simply remained there — and many are still operational today.
  • Built in 1851, the First Presbyterian Church Downtown is one of the few examples of Egyptian Revival architecture in the entire country and was designed by William Strickland, architect of the Tennessee State Capitol building. This church was one of many buildings used as a hospital during the Union occupation of the city during the Civil War. It was designated Hospital No. 8 and housed 206 beds.
  • African-American artist and native Nashvillian William Edmondson was the first black artist to be honored with a one-man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art houses a permanent Edmondson exhibit.
  • The amount on the price tag on Minnie Pearl’s iconic hat was $1.98. The Centerville native and Grand Ole Opry star would eventually buy a grand home next door to the Governor’s Mansion on Curtiswood Lane in Nashville.
  • In 1925, National Life & Accident Insurance Company founded the radio program known today as the Grand Ole Opry. The program’s original name was WSM Barn Dance, and the station’s call letters were an acronym for the company’s slogan, “We Shield Millions!” The famous name change took place two years later when announcer George Hay was preparing for a Saturday night program, which followed a broadcast of classical music from New York. In his opening remarks, Hay quipped, “For the last hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera and the classics. We now present our own Grand Ole Opry,” and the name stuck.
  • Following one Sunday afternoon sermon, Capt. Tom Ryman, infamous for breaking up tent revivals, became an instant convert and immediately began raising funds to build a church. Upon his death in 1904, the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the church he built, became known as the Ryman Auditorium. The famous hall would later host such performers as Enrico Caruso, Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope, and was home to the Grand Ole Opry for three decades. Not surprisingly, in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 the Ryman was named the best theatre in the nation by Pollstar. The Ryman features the best music of today by artists of all genres.
  • Nashville hosted the GRAMMY® Nominations Concert in 2012, making it the only time this event has taken place outside of LA.
  • Standard Candy Company, founded in 1901, created Goo Goo, a true Nashville delight marrying peanuts, caramel, marshmallow, and milk chocolate together for a tasty cluster of candy now considered the nation’s oldest combination candy bar. Standard Candy Company can produce 20,000 Goo Goo Clusters in an hour!
  • The Parthenon in Centennial Park is the world’s only exact replica of the ancient Greek temple. Originally built for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition in 1897, the temporary structure was reconstructed permanently in 1931. Inside the temple stands the gilded goddess of wisdom, Athena. At 42-feet tall, Athena Parthenos is the western hemisphere’s largest indoor statue.
  • The Hermitage Hotel, which has hosted several political and entertainment figures including John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bette Davis, and Al Capone since it opened its doors in 1910, is the only Five-Star, Five Diamond property in the state of Tennessee.
  • Oprah Winfrey was raised in Nashville by her father Vernon Winfrey. While a sophomore at Tennessee State University (TSU), she was hired as a news anchor at WTVF-TV/ News Channel 5, making her the first female and first African American in Nashville to hold such a job.
  • Tennessee’s capitol building is one of the oldest operating capitols in America. The distinctive tower of the building is designed after the monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece. The architect William Strickland considered the capitol his crowning achievement and chose to be entombed above the cornerstone. Additionally, James K. Polk and his wife are buried on the grounds of the capitol.
  • Adelicia Acklen, mistress of Belmont Mansion, was one of the richest women in the nation. During the Civil War, Acklen faced financial ruin when the Confederate army threatened to burn her cotton to keep it from falling into Union possession. Duping both armies, Adelicia traveled to Louisiana and single-handedly negotiated the sale of her cotton to Rothschilds of London for a reported $960,000 in gold.
  • United Record, a vinyl pressing plant in downtown Nashville, is one of only four remaining vinyl manufacturers in the nation. Operating since 1949, United has pressed millions of records for artists like Elvis Presley, Lionel Richie, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and N’Sync, as well as for numerous hip-hop and reggae musicians.
  • Thomas Hart Benton’s mural “The Sources of Country Music” hangs as a priceless treasure in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The mural, completed in 1975 when Benton was 85 years old, is meant to depict the rich, varied sources of country music. The painting includes imagery – a train, a country church and a riverboat – that evokes many of country music’s traditional themes. Tragically, Benton suffered a massive heart attack while looking over the mural, right before signing his name. Hence, his approval never appeared on the art.
  • Nashville was founded on Christmas Day 1779 on the banks of the Cumberland River. Two teams of pioneers led by James Robertson and Capt. John Donelson set forth from the Carolinas to found the new city. They soon discovered they were not the first European settlers. Timothy Demonbreun, a Frenchman from Quebec, had been living on the banks of the river since 1769. Upon arrival, the pioneers immediately began building Fort Nashborough. Among the pioneers was Rachel Donelson, daughter of Capt. Donelson, who would later become the wife of President Andrew Jackson.
  • Nashville hosts the largest songwriter’s festival in the world, Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival every spring. Around 350 songwriters perform their original songs at venues around town during the week-long festival that draws people in from around the world to hear the stories behind the songs and heroes behind the hits.
  • Capt. William Driver gave the American flag its most famous nickname, “Old Glory.” When he retired to Nashville after a life on the sea in 1837, it was his flag that was raised over the State Capitol when Federal troops captured the city in 1862. Driver is buried in the historic Old City Cemetery.
  • In 1941, Nashville was granted the first FM-broadcasting license in the U.S. and Music City became the first to enjoy static-free radio.
  • In February 1960, John Lewis, a student at Nashville’s American Baptist Theological Seminary, helped spark a successful sit-in movement at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. Today, black-and-white granite stools in Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park mark the inspiring event, as does the Civil Rights Room in the Nashville Downtown Library.
  • According to a study by Urbanist Richard Florida, Nashville has the highest concentration of people working in the music industry per capita than anywhere else in the world. Florida states “Nashville’s growth as a music center has been explosive; since 1970 it accounts for almost all the growth in the music sector in the United States.”
  • Jefferson Street saw a jazz, blues, and R&B music heyday during the 1940s through the 1960s. Greats like Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Ike and Tina Turner, Etta James, and more played in numerous local clubs, such as the The New Era Club, The Del Morocco, and The Club Baron.
  • The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is located in what was formerly Nashville’s main post office, a city landmark placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The Center went to great lengths to preserve the historical integrity of the 1934 Art Deco building, a work of art in itself.
  • The Union Station Hotel, a National Historic Landmark since 1977, was originally built in 1900 as the city’s railroad station.
  • Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union during the Civil War and the first state to be readmitted after the war. East Tennesseans were strongly pro-Union, while West and Middle Tennesseans were primarily on the side of the Confederacy.
  • One of Nashville’s best known culinary contributions, hot chicken, was an accidental creation by a woman seeking revenge. Prince’s Hot Chicken, the first and perhaps most well-known hot chicken restaurant, began when Thornton Prince’s girlfriend suspected him of cheating on her so she put extra pepper in his fried chicken. Thornton liked it so much that he opened the BBQ Chicken Shack in the mid-1930s which would later become Prince’s Hot Chicken.
  • Legendary Nashville musician Chet Atkins was nicknamed “Mr. Guitar.” A bronze sculpture of the recording pioneer stands at Fifth Avenue North and Union Street downtown.
  • Joel Owsley Cheek was the inventor of Maxwell House Coffee, the blend that became so popular it made Nashville the center of the nation’s coffee business in the early 20th century. In 1892, he developed a recipe for a blend of premium beans and convinced the manager of the Maxwell House Hotel to try the coffee and then to serve it exclusively. The coffee was so well received by the hotel’s guests that the owner gave Cheek permission to use the Maxwell House name for the coffee. The phrase “good to the last drop” was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt after he sipped coffee at the hotel.
  • Suffragist and civic leader Anne Dallas Dudley was a leader in the movement to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving American women the right to vote. A socially prominent wife and mother in Nashville, Anne Dudley organized the Nashville Equal Suffrage League in 1911 and became president of the Tennessee League and a vice president of the national organization. She and her organization spearheaded the successful campaign to make Tennessee the “perfect 36,” the state to cast the deciding vote for the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
  • Roy Orbison wrote the iconic hit “Pretty Woman” from atop his Eighth Avenue and Wedgewood apartment after he looked out his window and saw a pretty woman walking by.
  • Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish community in North America. The largest wave of Kurdish resettlement came in the early 90s but continues today. A recent estimate has numbered the Kurdish population to be around 11,000.
  • Rocker Jack White moved his record label, Third Man Records, from Detroit to Nashville in 2009 where it opened its first physical location on Seventh Avenue. The label releases albums and singles primarily on vinyl record. The location serves as a record store, label offices, and live venue called The Blue Room. The Blue Room is the only venue in the world to record live shows direct-to-acetate, producing a vinyl master in real time.
  • Belle Meade Plantation was famous for breeding thoroughbred horses. On June 1, 1881, Iroquois – bred and later purchased by Belle Meade – had the honor of being the first American horse to win the English Derby. Nashville still honors this famous horse by hosting the annual Iroquois Steeplechase the second Saturday of May. Thoroughbreds War Admiral and Seabiscuit, as well as Kentucky Derby winners Funny Cide, Barbarro, and the legendary Secretariat also trace their lineage to Belle Meade.
  • At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Tennessee native Wilma Rudolph became “the fastest woman in the world” and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. A star of the famed Tennessee State Tigerbelles, she won the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes and ran the anchor leg on the 400-meter relay.
  • Nashville is home to country and non-country artists including: Jack White, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, Ben Folds, Kings of Leon, Taylor Swift, Kesha, Martina McBride, Paramore, Alison Krauss, Michael McDonald, Matt Wertz, Joy Williams, Sheryl Crow, Young Buck, Michael W. Smith, and many others.
  • Nashville has more than 120 live music venues throughout the city. Venues that play music four or more nights a week will have a guitar pick-shaped “Live Music Venue” sign.
  • The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville introduced the world to the plaintive beauty and tradition of the Negro spiritual, which became the basis for other genres of African-American music. It was because of their successful international tours to raise funds for the university during the 1870s that Nashville first became known for its music.
  • Located on Music Row, recording studio Warner/Chappell Production Music is internationally renowned for its musical talent in radio, television, and advertising. They create custom scores for television shows like the Today show, ABC Sports, HGTV, Animal Planet, and more.