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Just in time for the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021, the powerful new museum of the best black music in American history is here. And it’s truly unique: there is no other museum in the world with this purpose and mission. Our correspondent Abbie Martin Greenbaum shares all the details you need to know about the new National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM). Including where to stay, what to eat, and what else to do after you visit the hometown of the new black music museum, Nashville, Tennessee. It’s one nation under a groove, people! Turn the volume up.

The Powerful New Museum of the Best Black Music is Here

If you’ve already seen a number of the iconic Civil Rights museums in America, and you’re still keen to learn and experience even more of the history of Black people in the U.S., we have a suggestion about where you should go next. Two words: Nashville, Tennessee.


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Yes, that’s right. In the heart of country music, within view of the Ryman Auditorium (also known as the Mother Church of Country Music), there’s a new space that honors a different and yet related musical tradition. Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) will hold its long-awaited Grand Opening on January 30, 2021. However, there’s a virtual ribbon cutting ceremony today.

the vision for the national museum of African American Music

Initially conceived in 2002, the NMAAM finally broke ground in the heart of the tourist district in Nashville in 2017. After a postponement this past August due to the coronavirus pandemic, the big day has at last arrived.

The Powerful New Museum of the Best Black Music is Here

The Powerful New Museum of the Best Black Music is Here

As the museum’s trustees and management proudly state, this is “the first entity to tell a comprehensive story about the impact African Americans have made on American culture through music.”

The museum’s mission is “to educate the world, preserve the legacy, and celebrate the central role African Americans play in creating the American soundtrack.” The institution is intended to become a destination for music lovers from all over the world.


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what to expect from a visit to the National Museum of African American Music

Visitors can expect an in-depth exploration of more than 50 genres and subgenres of music, including jazz, blues, hip-hop, and many, many others – all of which were created or heavily influenced by African Americans.

Rather than being grouped by genre, though, the exhibits are arranged in chronological order. In an interview with The New York Times, the President and CEO of NMAAM explained. “We wanted to tell a chronological story of American music, rather than a genre-driven or artist-driven story.” The scope covers 400 years of creativity and musical expression.

As a result of that design decision, this museum of the best Black music in America also offers the remarkable opportunity to examine U.S. history itself through the lens of music. The design employs technology in creative ways to enable a holistic and immersive experience.

The Powerful New Museum of the Best Black Music is Here

The Powerful New Museum of the Best Black Music is Here

the river of music (and the river of time)

The museum’s central corridor is called theRivers of Rhythm Path.” It’s designed to encourage guests to flow through a wave-like path of sound, all the way from early Southern religious traditions to contemporary hip-hop. 

The New York Times notes that name is a nod to the poem written by Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

The journey through 5 interactive galleries is accentuated with interactive touch panels, an animated timeline, and immersive film pop-ups, which travelers can use to help them connect the dots between past and present. At the end of their trip, they will have a better understanding of how music has morphed over time, as well as of music as metaphor for historic events.

The Gallery of Gospel

The remainder of the galleries were also designed with the idea of legacy in mind, and many of them work to take a genre and trace its transformation from origin to present day.

The new museum of black music in Nashville, Tennessee including where to stay and what to do:

The new museum of black music in Nashville, Tennessee including where to stay and what to do.

For instance, “Wade in the Water: The African American Religious Experience,” stretches all the way from the 1600’s to the present. Showing the metamorphosis of indigenous African music to African American spirituals, to the “Golden Age of Gospel” in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. And then finally to the beginning of the 21st century, where church music had a strong influence on doo-wop, R&B, soul, and more.

It’s not a dry recitation of facts, though. In this gallery you can actually sing along with a gospel choir. Cannot wait to do that.

Jazz, Hip-hop, Blues and R&B

Galleries dedicated to jazz (“A Love Supreme”), blues (“Crossroads”), hip-hop (“The Message”), and R&B (“One Nation Under a Groove”) bring their genres’ trajectories to life in a similar way. Allowing guests to fully conceptualize the way they have influenced one another, all of music, and even all of history. You can rap in “The Message” gallery – which might be the perfect way to get your entire family to visit this wonderful new space.

Historic museum artifacts of Black music in America

The National Museum of African American Music also boasts an impressive collection of objects to assist in storytelling. Instruments, stage costumes, sheet music, recording equipment, photographs and more. These are yet another way of making the past feel tangible throughout the museum’s halls. The institution reports that there are more 1,500 artifacts on exhibit.


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what to know before you go

Ready for a visit? You can purchase one of the museum’s timed entry tickets here. Due to COVID, the museum is currently open only on Saturdays and Sundays, which makes this the perfect weekend excursion.

And if you can’t make it in person right now, don’t worry. You can still enjoy some of the extensive archival content – such as conversations with esteemed guests, like Eric Roberson and Bobby Rush – here.

If you do plan on coming to see the museum in person – which we highly recommend, if you have a safe way to travel – then we have some suggestions about how to make the most of your visit.

Where to Stay:

The Thompson Nashville

Two-time recipient of the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award, the luxury boutique hotel Thompson Nashville has everything you could possibly need during your stay.

new museum black music

The new museum of black music in Nashville, Tennessee including where to stay and what to do: Hotel Thompson Nashville. Courtesy Photo.

We know COVID-19 has made accommodations all the more important, and Thompson Nashville checks all the boxes. Floor to ceiling windows will allow you to experience breathtaking views of the city. You wont even have to leave the safety of your beautiful room. And the hotel’s famed rooftop bar is open for dinner, so you can enjoy some virus-free sightseeing with your meal. Best of all, Thompson Nashville knows what it means to be a hotel in “Music City” – they have records available for purchase, and guitars available for guests to use.

Located in the Gulch, a popular Nashville area, the hotel is only a five-minute drive from the museum. It couldn’t be easier.

Where to Eat in Nashville, Tennessee:

After your museum visit, it’s only an eight-minute drive to Swett’s. This iconic, family-owned Nashville restaurant has been in business for 62 years.  They offer some of the best homestyle Southern food you’ll ever find. The food is served cafeteria-style, and includes an enormous array of meat, fish, vegetables, barbecue, breads, and desserts.

where to stay Nashville, Tennessee

The new museum of black music in Nashville, Tennessee, including where to stay and what to do: Swett’s. Courtesy Photo.

As well as being known for their unforgettable food, Swett’s is also a notable gathering spot for Nashville’s biggest names. You’ll definitely want to stop by while you’re in town.


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What Else to Do in Nashville, Tennessee:

If you are in need of more adventure while you’re in town, make sure to sign up for a tour with United Street Tours. Though they’ve been paused for COVID-19, they’re reopening in February 2021 – perfect timing for your upcoming museum trip.

These 5-star walking and bus tours are dedicated to showcasing the city’s Black history. Tours are led and curated entirely by local residents. It’s a marvelous way to see Nashville’s people, food, and history, as well as the city’s architecture, with new eyes. Founder Chakita Patterson is a Tennessee native with a background in storytelling and education. She believes strongly that both are a way to build bridges.

where to stay Nashville, Tennessee

The new museum of black music in Nashville, Tennessee including, where to stay and what to do: United Street Tours. Courtesy Photo.

You can choose among three different routes, each of which is about two hours and can be booked for a private group tour. Safe and outdoors, the tours couldn’t be more COVID-19 friendly, and would make the perfect addition to your trip.

How to visit the new museum of black music

That’s our overview of how to visit the powerful new black music museum in Nashville. Wherever your travels take you, stay safe and strong, dear reader.

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Abbie Martin Greenbaum grew up in New York City and currently lives in Brooklyn, where she drinks a lot of coffee and matches roommates together for a living. At Oberlin College, she studied English and Cinema, which are still two of her favorite things, along with dessert and musical theater. She believes in magic.

Abbie Martin Greenbaum

Abbie Martin Greenbaum is a writer, reader, and pop culture connoisseur, who loves storytelling, coffee, and dessert. Her work has also appeared in Playbill.