Nashville is one of the most musical cities in the world. But it’s not just live music that makes the city so great. There are also many museums that trace the history of music from its origins to the present day. Spanning several musical genres like country, blues and rock and roll, these museums are a must-see for anyone who has an interest in music.
With more than 2.5 million artifacts, this museum is fittingly called the “Smithsonian of country music.” It holds hundreds of historical musical instruments like Earl Scruggs’ banjo, thousands of clothing items worn by country artists, including the dress Carrie Underwood wore when she won American Idol, and more than 30,000 moving images on film, including Glen Campbell narrating the history of country music. The museum also hosts weekly instrument demonstrations and has a songwriting program for schools called Words & Music. In addition to the exhibits at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, you’ll find the 776-seat CMA Theater, the 213-seat Ford Theater, and the Taylor Swift Education Center. All of these are meant to foster the goal of the museum, which is to “collect, preserve, and interpret the evolving history and traditions of country music.”
Formerly referred to as just RCA Studios, this is one of the oldest and most prestigious music studios in Nashville. Gaining wide popularity in the 1960s, RCA Studios recorded huge artists like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and several others. Although most of the artists functioned with the Nashville country sound, there are artists like Jerry Byrd who recorded rock and roll and alternative rock songs at the facility. It operates under the control of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and its preservation is made possible by the Mike Curb Family Foundation, but it remains one of the city’s gatekeepers to the Nashville sound.
Paying tribute to one of country music’s most acclaimed vocalists, this museum made its debut in 2017. It houses the world’s largest collection of Patsy Cline artifacts, including furnishings from her house in Nashville. There are also family photos and possessions that trace back to her life in Winchester, Virginia. Many of the costumes on display at the museum were designed and made by her mother. One exhibit, which allows visitors to step inside Patsy’s Rec Room, contains furnishings owned by Patsy and her husband, Charlie Dick. A bio film inside the museum is hosted by actress Beverly D’Angelo, who played Cline in the 1980 film, Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Originally curated by the country legend’s widow Nancy, this museum is part of a multi-story entertainment complex collectively known as The George Jones. In addition to the museum, it houses a BBQ restaurant, live music, and a rooftop bar. The museum is located on the second floor inside The George Jones. The late performer’s legacy can be found throughout the museum in the form of memorabilia, music recordings, and fun facts about his life. One such fact? He had more country singles on the Billboard Chart and more Top 50 songs than any country artist in history.
This museum was designed to pay tribute to rare and iconic guitars and other stringed instruments like mandolins. It started with the late Steven Kern Shaw, an avid guitar collector who wanted his instruments to be donated after his death to a Nashville institution responsible enough to care for his collection, which consists of nearly 500 stringed instruments. At the GIG, located on the Belmont University campus, visitors get an up-close-and-personal look at the instruments, along with historical information and technical facts about each one.
If you are a fan of the “Man in Black,” this museum is a must. It offers the largest collection of Johnny Cash memorabilia in the world, including stage costumes, instruments, personal letters, and other artifacts. This classic red brick building is available for private events and there is also a café located within the museum.
Inside the Historic Nashville Municipal Auditorium is a music museum like no other in the world. This attraction pays tribute to the musicians who played on some of the greatest song recordings of all time. Exhibits feature actual instruments used by musicians and cover several musical genres. The Motown Exhibit includes instruments used to record songs by musical groups like The Temptations and The Jackson 5. The American Studio Exhibit includes the actual vocal booth and instruments used to record some of the top tunes by artists like Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, and Neil Diamond. The popular GRAMMY Museum Gallery gives people information on the history of the GRAMMY Awards and offers an interactive experience where visitors can go behind the scenes and record a song in a recording booth.