Charles Neville, the embodiment of New Orleans’ soulful, funky sounds, and a regular headliner at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, moved up to Nashville, Tennessee, after hurricane Katrina. I was puzzled by this news, as I remembered Charles well from the 1970s when he would regularly jam with his brothers at my apartment on St. Charles Avenue. We would hit spoons and pots as we danced to his “Hey Pocky Way.” The Nevilles were the essence of New Orleans music, then and now.
Not long after this, I heard that John Oreck, famous for his innovative vacuum cleaner empire and his substantial property ownership in New Orleans, had also moved to Nashville. (My very first vacuum cleaner was proudly an Oreck product from New Orleans.) These events compelled me to find out what charm Nashville held that was luring New Orleanians.
So, when a dear friend and post-Katrina transplant, who also had mysteriously moved to Nashville, invited me to speak at a garden show event there, I put my car on auto pilot and cruised the eight hour drive to see what the capital of Tennessee, dubbed the “Music City,” was all about. Much to my delight, I discovered many of the alluring qualities of Nashville.
Nestled in the rolling foothills of Tennessee, Nashville is a dynamic city with an abundance of magnificent homes that enjoy the changing backdrop of seasonal foliage. Its pre-Civil War architecture, high-end downtown retail, and exceptional educational institutions designate it as a city primed for relocation. Its artful skyline houses magnificent venues for the cultural arts. Nashville has a vibrant downtown, easily accessed by most of its upscale residential neighborhoods. Vanderbilt University, as well as several prestigious high schools, frame the center of the city. Major medical corporations house their headquarters here, employing thousands of highly skilled professionals.
Art museums with collections of modern and European art offer an important array of traveling exhibitions. Last but not least, in the southern tradition, the “daddies are rich and the mamas are good looking,” as the song Summertime goes. Nashville seems to have it all. On the musical front, Nashville is where it all began. Today, there are over 120 live year-round musical venues offering every genre of music. The city’s musical roots go back to the fiddling days of David Crockett. Legend has it that he was the city’s first real star. Critical to Nashville’s lead in advancing the talents and recognition of African Americans was the city’s support of the famed historic Fisk University’s Jubilee Singers, who toured the country in the 1870s. (Fisk University was the first African American College founded in Nashville in 1866) During the first half of the 20th century, Nashville’s music scene took off.
From the announcement of the Grand Ole Opry in 1932 to the introduction of the African American’s Rhythm and Blues to white teenagers, the city’s claim to the birthplace of rock’n’ roll was immortalized. Nashville’s musical recording industry ignited like fire with the introduction of a talented young singer-songwriter, Hank Williams, in the 1940s. By 1944, RCA Victor began recording the music of the times and the Nashville recording industry was launched. By 1948, the city had its first million-selling song, and the record pressing plants were built to fulfill the demands of America.
Gospel and country were the bedrock of Nashville; however, it became the city for launching records for many musical greats. Elvis Presley, James Brown, Brenda Lee, the Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffett, the Beach Boys, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr all recorded in Nashville. To emphasize the importance of the Nashville musical scene, it is said that the great Jimmy Hendrix credited Nashville as being where he really learned to play guitar. Nashville was and still is a hotbed of the musical world.
Today, Nashville has its own sound that extends way beyond its country influence. It is the home of performers climbing the ladder of musical styles from country, classical, jazz, pop, gospel, hip-hop, top 40s, and R&B. Musicians come from all over the world to jam, perform, record, and stay in Nashville.
Music enthusiasts can visit the historic RCA Studio B, which is the oldest recording studio. Here, superstars from every genre of music recorded some of America’s most enduring tunes. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, and Elvis Presley recorded some of their greatest hits at RCA Studio. Other must-see musical landmarks in Nashville include the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Grand Ole Opry, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, Music Row, Printers Alley, and the famed Ryman Auditorium. Nashville played an important role in the development of music in America. Whether you are interested in history, grandeur, or just great music, Nashville is the place to visit or live.
If you are looking for a city with musical excitement after the Jazz Festival, Nashville is in the heart of it all.