Why Museum Dedicated To Black Music Will Be In Nashville, Not Memphis

(Memphis) Memphis is known as the ‘Birthplace of Rock and Roll’ and the ‘Home of Soul and R&B music.’

But, for the second time, Memphis has been passed over to become home of a national museum in an industry it helped create.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame went to Cleveland, Ohio.

Now Nashville, known as ‘Music City’ for its Country music bars and stars such as Dolly Parton, George Straight, Taylor Swift and many others, is getting a new tune with the proposed National Museum of African-American Music.

James Alexander is a founding member of the legendary R&B and Funk band, The Bar-Kays, which recorded many of their hits at Stax Records in Memphis.

“For them to get that museum in Nashville is kind of like a slap in the face. That museum should be in Memphis,” Alexander said.

Alexander said he’s disappointed the $17 million museum won’t be in Memphis, “That hits where it hurts. It should have, would have, could have been in Memphis, but it’s another thing that got away.”

The museum is expected to generate $9 million in revenue and 133,000 new visitors a year, plus create 100 permanent jobs.

The museum’s CEO, Nashville businessman Henry Hicks III, says Nashville was the obvious choice because of its long history with African-American music, ranging from the Fisk Jubilee Singers to the Jefferson Street labels to modern gospel music.

Otis Sanford is WREG’s political commentator.

“I take strong objection to the term obvious choice. There is nothing obvious about this. Nashville’s history with African-American music, while it may be known in the city, but not nationally. The obvious choice would be Memphis,” Sanford said.

But should the obvious choice really have been Memphis?

Al Bell is the chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation, “So, this is white Nashville, Tennessee saying we want it here in Nashville and that excites me.”.

Bell was also owner of Stax Records.

It’s where Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, David Porter, the Staple Singers and many others recorded some of their biggest hits at Soulsville, USA aka Memphis.

Bell said Nashville leaders simply stepped up, raised private money and got it done.

It is something he said Memphis struggles to do.

“Since we have all this black music in Memphis, a major black population in Memphis, the history is there, the largest city in the state of Tennessee, why wasn’t someone about the business of putting this National Museum of African-American Music in Memphis instead of complaining about what someone else is doing?” Bell said.

Noted Memphis songwriter and producer David Porter has sold millions of hit songs around the world, “I think about Stax Records, I think about Aretha Franklin, I think about Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire and Issac Hayes and Al Green.”

Porter and his songwriting partner Isaac Hayes wrote classics such as “Hold On, I’m Comin’ and “Soul Man.”

He recently founded the Consortium, MMT or ‘Memphis Music Town’ to pass the musical torch to the next generation of soul singers and musicians.

“We should applaud what Nashville is doing as being an additional compliment to what Memphis can brag about based on what we have right here.” Porter said.

Memphis does have the Rock and Soul Museum created by the Smithsonian Institution and it also has the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

Tim Sampson is the communications director of the Soulsville Foundation.

“I don’t think that Memphis dropped the ball, at all. We already have the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and we have the Rock and Soul Museum. Both are great institutions that tell the story of African-American music from its very beginnings.” Sampson said.

Most agree African-American music is deeply rooted Memphis, and it is a story that can’t be told without mentioning the city’s name.

But some people, such as Al Bell, challenge city leaders and the local music industry to change their tune and do a better job of promoting Memphis music’s past, present and future.

“Is it because we didn’t move and slapped ourselves in the face here in Memphis and we put the dagger in our own heart? So, get off your buttocks and become proactive and get something done,” Bell said.


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