There’s a central room in the new National Museum of African American Music – one that connects to all other corners of the 56,000-square-foot space.
It’s called the “Rivers of Rhythm” corridor, and once you step inside, you’re awash in the sounds that have defined America for 400 years.
On one end, you hear voices harmonizing over centuries-old spirituals, blending into the earliest recordings of Delta blues. At the same time, the opening saxophone flourishes of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” beckon from the other side of the hall, while Ice Cube tears into the first bars of “Straight Outta Compton.”
The way these sounds and their corresponding galleries flow into one another is part of the intentional design of the long-awaited museum – which will cut the ribbon Monday at its entrance at Fifth and Broadway in downtown Nashville.
Walking through its halls, it’s clear the museum’s mission isn’t just to trace the history of music made by Black Americans, but also to drive home that our collective love of these sounds unites us all – as “One Nation Under A Groove.” You’re also reminded that the most precious artifact of this history is the music itself.
That’s not to say there aren’t scores of tangible items to be in awe of. You’ll find a Gibson “Lucille” guitar played by B.B. King, and a gold-plated trumpet owned by the legendary Louis Armstrong.
National Museum of African American Music:Inside its journey to completion
You can pore over the fine print of one of Billie Holiday’s performance contracts, and picture Nat King Cole donning his mustard-yellow argyle sweater that now sits behind glass, along with apparel once worn by Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, Jay-Z, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
There’s also plenty for guests to actually get their hands on. You’ll find touchscreen tables in each of the galleries, letting you draw lines from musicians in one genre to their influences and followers in others. There are charming high-tech spaces that invite you to be a part of the music, too.
Nashville gospel great Dr. Bobby Jones hosts an interactive video that makes you a member of the choir, via green-screen technology. There’s a disco dance room that puts your neon silhouette on the wall and a vocal booth where you can record your own freestyle raps. All of this activity is recorded on a personal RFID wristband and uploaded automatically, so visitors can share their footage with friends online.
Monday’s ribbon-cutting marks a clear finish line of a 23-year journey to bring this museum to Music City — but opening to the public will be an evolving process in the weeks to come.
NMAAM members will be able to tour the museum during “Members Preview Weekend” on Jan. 23 and 24.
The museum opens to the public Jan. 30 with timed, self-guided tours running on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Through February, the museum will be open only on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are now on sale at www.nmaam.org.