The American soundtrack is finding a home in Music City.

The National Museum of African American Music, or NMAAM, is set to open later this year as the cornerstone of the Fifth + Broadway site currently under construction. The 56,000-square-foot facility will house five galleries focusing on the legacy and contributions of African Americans to more than 50 musical genres and sub-genres ranging from spirituals to jazz to blues to R&B to hip-hop.

“American music and black music have become inseparable,” said H. Beecher Hicks III, president and CEO of NMAAM. “No museum until NMAAM had fully explored the role African Americans have played and continue to play in turning American music into the soundtrack of the world.”

Gallery names will include “Crossroads,” “Wade in the Water,” “One Nation Under a Groove,”  “A Love Supreme,” “ The Message” and will trace a line from the Stono slave rebellion in 1739 all the way to the rise and dominance of hip-hop through a combination of interactive technology, artifacts and, of course, music.

Music truly is a great uniting force in our culture. It’s why we’ve chosen the tagline ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ to be the singular idea guiding us forward.

That line, taken from the 1978 Funkadelic hit by the same name, highlights how NMAAM will explore the cultural, musical and political forces that are present in all forms of music.

“One Nation Under a Groove” was a foundational moment in the history of funk music, and in seven and a half minutes George Clinton and Funkadelic distilled the essence of African American music and its profound impact on our lives.

NMAAM will explore how a song like “One Nation Under a Groove” defined a genre, how it was both a product of and a fuel for the spirit of the late 1970s, and also its legacy in becoming a building block for West Coast rap in the late 1990s.

“We want visitors to be exposed to artists, songs and stories they’re familiar with, but then use those as a jumping-off point to learn about the people and stories they don’t know,” Hicks said.
“Our aim is to show how all of these come together to create what we know as ‘American music.’”

NMAAM isn’t only looking backward, however. They also understand the role they play in employing and assembling staff and executives in an industry historically difficult for minorities to break into.

A number of NMAAM staff members attended HBCUs, including the President and CEO, H. Beecher Hicks, III and Dionne Lucas, director of Marketing and Communications. Overall, 80 percent of the contractors being used in the project are minority-owned. NMAAM’s team is led by Don Hardin, project manager, and Harold Thompson, lead architect. Euphony Four, a joint venture of four minority contractors – East Tennessee Mechanical Contractor Corp., ICF Builders and Consultants, Pillars Development LLC, and Megen Construction – will lead the construction planning and management for NMAAM. And last year, NMAAM hired Nashville native and independent contractor Donna Gilliam to provide interior design services. While the museum hasn’t opened yet, their presence has already been felt across Nashville. They currently host a number of different educational programs, community events and award celebrations.

NMAAM’s educational programs From Nothing to Something and Music, Legends & Heroes, take place in schools across the city and expose students to musical styles, instruments and history they may not get otherwise.

Community events like Sips and Stanzas, Emerging Artist Series, and Fine Tuning are opportunities for Nashville professionals to network with those in the music industry and beyond.

And events like A Celebration of Legends are celebrations of musical heroes and industry icons, offering a chance to celebrate the contributions of artists like Nile Rodgers, Charlie Wilson and Keb’ Mo.’

A common theme is present at all of these events: the overwhelming power of music. The idea that music breaks down cultural, political and socio-economic walls. The idea that the groove can conquer all.

I believe NMAAM shouldn’t just be a museum; it needs to be a living celebration of African American culture and the things that we all share, regardless of background or race, as music fans. We can’t do that unless we continue to honor the legacy of this music by making an impact in the lives of every single person who hears about us, comes to one of our events or walks through our doors. That’s what I trust NMAAM will do.

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