Country music is everywhere in Nashville. You can hardly walk down a street here without hearing the strains of a country melody. In bars, in restaurants, in hotel lobbies, in the airport, and on the street corners, country musicians sing out in hopes that they, too, might be discovered and become the next big name. Nashville's reputation as Music City attracts thousands of hopeful musicians and songwriters every year, and though very few of them make it to the big time, they provide the music fan with myriad opportunities to hear the occasional great, undiscovered performer. Keep your ears tuned to the music that's the pulse of Nashville and one day you just might be able to say, "I heard her when she was a no-name playing at a dive bar in Nashville, years ago."
As early as 1871, a Nashville musical group, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, had traveled to Europe to sing African-American spirituals. By 1902, the city had its first music publisher, the Benson Company; and today, Nashville is still an important center for gospel music. Despite the fact that this musical tradition has long been overshadowed by country music, there are still numerous gospel-music festivals throughout the year in Nashville.
The history of Nashville in the 20th century is, for the most part and for most people, the history of country music. Though traditional fiddle music, often played at dances, had been a part of the Tennessee scene from the arrival of the very first settlers, it was not until the early 20th century that people outside the hills and mountains began to pay attention to this "hillbilly" music.
In 1925, radio station WSM-AM went on the air and began broadcasting a show called The WSM Barn Dance, which featured live performances of country music. Two years later, it renamed the show the Grand Ole Opry, a program that has been on the air ever since, and is the longest-running radio show in the country. The same year that the Grand Ole Opry began, Victor Records sent a recording engineer to Tennessee to record the traditional country music of the South. These recordings helped expose this music to a much wider audience than it had ever had, and interest in country music began to grow throughout the South and across the nation.
In 1942, Nashville's first country music publishing house opened, followed by the first recording studio in 1945. By the 1960s, there were more than 100 music publishers in Nashville and dozens of recording studios. The 1950s and early 1960s saw a rapid rise in the popularity of country music, and all the major record companies eventually opened offices here. Leading the industry at this time were brothers Owen and Harold Bradley, who opened the city's first recording studio not affiliated with the Grand Ole Opry. CBS and RCA soon followed suit. Many of the industry's biggest and most familiar names first recorded in Nashville at this time, including Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Brenda Lee, Dottie West, Floyd Cramer, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Perry Como, and Connie Francis.
During this period, country music evolved from its "hillbilly music" origins. With growing competition from rock 'n' roll, record producers developed a cleaner, more urban sound for country music. Production values went up and the music took on a new sound, the "Nashville sound." You can tour the old recording studio where many of those hits were recorded -- Historic RCA Studio B.
In 1972, the country music-oriented Opryland USA theme park (now supplanted by a shopping mall) opened on the east side of Nashville. In 1974, the Grand Ole Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium, its home of more than 30 years, to the new Grand Ole Opry House just outside the gates of Opryland.
In more recent years, country music has once again adapted to maintain its listenership. Rock and pop influences have crept into the music, opening a rift between traditionalists (who favor the old Nashville sound) and fans of the new country music, which for the most part is faster and louder than the music of old. However, in Nashville, every type of country music, from Cajun to contemporary, bluegrass to cowboy, honky-tonk to Western swing, is heard with regularity. Turn on your car radio anywhere in America and run quickly through the AM and FM dials: You'll likely pick up a handful of country music stations playing music that got its start in Nashville.
Eclectic Playlist for Nashville/Tennessee Travel
"The Brand New Tennessee Waltz" Joan Baez
"Pete the Best Coon Dog in Tennessee" Jimmy Martin
"East Nashville Easter" Yonder Mountain String Band
"Killing Time in Nashville" The Lost Cartographers
"Nashville" Indigo Girls
"Nashville" Liz Phair
"Nashville Blues" The Louvin Brothers
"Nashville Casualty & Life" Kinky Friedman
"Nashville Cats" The Kingston Trio
"Nashville Moon" Charlie Daniels Band
"Nashville Parent" Lambchop
"Nashville Pickin'" Doc Watson
"The Nashville Scene" Hank Williams, Jr.
"Nashville Shores" Jemima Pearl
"Nashville Skyline" Dishwalla
"Nashville Skyline Rag" Bob Dylan
"Nashville Tears" John Anderson
"Nashville Toupee" Southern Culture on the Skids
"Nashville West" The Byrds
"Nashville Woman's Blues" Bessie Smith
"South Nashville Blues" Steve Earle
"Tennessee" Arrested Development
"Tennessee" Carl Perkins
"Tennessee" The Shakes
"Tennessee" Shawn Colvin
"Tennessee Blues" Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
"Tennessee Courage" Vern Gosdin
"The Tennessee Jump" Chet Atkins
"Tennessee Line" Daughtry
"Tennessee Pusher" Old Crow Medicine Show
"Tennessee Toddy" Marty Robbins
"Tennessee Twister" Bob James and the Bob Cats
"Tennessee Waltz" Les Paul and Mary Ford
"Tennessee Waltz" Norah Jones
"Tennessee Waltz" Otis Redding
"Tennessee Waltz/Tennessee Mazurka" The Chieftains
"Tennessee Whiskey" David Allan Coe
"Tennessee Woman" Charlie Musselwhite
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.