The National Museum of African American Music is finally beginning to take shape.
After nearly two decades, construction is under way on Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville. Meanwhile, organizers are gathering hundreds of artifacts and designing exhibits for the museum’s expected launch next year.
But even without a building, the museum has been setting up education programming, including weekly visits to public schools to teach students about the history of black music. Henry Beecher Hicks, the organization’s president, says it’s part of changing how museums are perceived.
“People think of museums as tourist attractions where people go to see interesting things behind glass cases,” Hicks said. “We really look at our work as being primarily as an education institution.”
Throughout its development, the National Museum of African American Music has faced issues with funding and finding a location. At one time, the museum was to be constructed on Jefferson Street, once the heart of Nashville’s R&B scene. But when that proposal failed to get off the ground, plans shifted to the site of the old Nashville Convention Center, at the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway.
The grand opening is scheduled for the end of 2019, and when it opens, organizers plan to organize the museum chronologically. Each exhibit will explore a different musical genre.
One will trace the history of gospel music in African-American churches; another will look at the blues sung by sharecroppers in the 1800s. And still others will explore jazz during the Great Migration and the rise of rap in the ’90s.
The museum has collected more than 700 artifacts, which are being stored at the Country Music Hall of Fame. The planned displays include a dress worn by pop singer Whitney Houston and jazz musician Kirk Whalum’s saxophone.