The Johnny Cash Museum Joins the List of Must-See Nashville Museums
Enter the Johnny Cash Museum and prepare to embark on an intimate encounter with the Man in Black. Nestled in the heart of Nashville’s downtown district between Broadway and the Music City Center, you almost expect to find Cash in the next room as you track his life story through a fascinating timeline of memorabilia.
Just like the music icon that it showcases, the museum is unlike any other. Creatively designed in a small space, the experience becomes personal. Letters, documents, photos, awards, costumes and instruments take you on an interactive journey that reveals the passions and fortunes of the man who became one of America’s greatest entertainers.
This is more about walking the line with him, rather than observing Johnny Cash from afar. Displays start with his early life on a farm in Arkansas and travel through his service in the USAF, marriage, children and how he broke into the music business. One of my favorite parts – and really, it’s hard to isolate one thing – was following the evolution of Cash’s musical career. At individual stations you can listen through headphones to samplings of his music at different eras of his life, and hear the changes in his deepening voice as he matured.
Another interactive section compares the quality of sound as recording technology evolved from reel to reel through cassettes, CDs and MP3 Remix. On the other side of the wall filled with gold and platinum albums and a parade of awards, is a small movie theater, where you can hang out and watch movies Cash starred in.
Cash’s comeback from a low of substance abuse, depression and failed marriage is revealed in his romance with June Carter Cash, his rediscovery of faith and a reborn musical career. You will read stories of his acts of kindness, championing the rights of others regardless of political correctness, and the selfless giving of time, talent and support to the underprivileged and less fortunate.
Johnny Cash experienced a deep empathy for men behind bars, performing numerous concerts to the inmates of various prisons leading up to the success of his Folsom Prison album and a string of hit releases.
Your own patriotism will be stirred as you watch the memorable viewing area where Cash recites the words of his poem That Ragged Old Flag.
Founded by Bill Miller with blessings and contributions of the Cash family, the Johnny Cash Museum celebrated it Grand Opening in May 2013 and is open 7 days/week from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
If you only knew Johnny Cash from his songs before visiting the museum, you will develop a personal relationship with one of the greatest men in country music history by the time you leave. The gift shop offers a great selection of Johnny Cash souvenirs to keep his memory alive. To make your experience even more enjoyable, consider taking a shuttle to avoid parking downtown. Nashville Country Shuttle (615-573-5084) offers specials and discount group rates, and Sedan on Demand (615-254-4600) provides luxury limo service.
MUSICIANS HALL OF FAME & MUSEUM
Recently opened in their new location at the historic Nashville Municipal Auditorium, the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum peels back the curtains on the recording sessions of the songs we all know and love. Who were the men and women who made the music?
Session musicians are the amazing talent out of sight of the camera, but it is their music that has made the world a different place. Thomas Edison’s invention of the ‘talking machine’ in 1877, which created the ability to record sound in one place and hear it in another, also allowed sounds to be blended, paving the way for the musical complexity of recordings we enjoy today.
The museum is a tribute to the magic, allowing visitors to see the instruments that played the famous songs, and hear the stories. Joe Chambers, owner of the museum, gave me a personal tour as he pointed out many of the highlights.
“You can see the cigarette burns on that piano from years of songwriting sessions,” he said. “Billy Sherrill, voted songwriter of the century, wrote most of his songs on this piano, like Stand by Your Man, with Tammy Wynette, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, and Behind Closed Doors.”
In other exhibits we saw Peter Drake’s steel guitar that he played for artists such as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Marty Robbins, George Jones and Bob Dylan; Jerry Kennedy’s dobro heard on the hit recording of Harper Valley P.T.A.
The drums played by Hal Blaine stood alongside other instruments used by members of The Wrecking Crew, the group of studio and session musicians that played anonymously on many records in Los Angeles in the 1960s.
The serendipity of the tour was hearing the songs playing at each different exhibit. I’ve always loved the music of the Sixties and Seventies, so relished hearing the famous recordings of the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, the Carpenters, Simon & Garfunkel and others while appreciating the instruments and the musicians behind the scenes. A jazz bass, a saxophone, a keyboard – every instrument on display told a story about the songs it had immortalized.
The Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum offers the extra bonus of event space that can be rented. You can tour the museum Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and have open access to all the exhibits for any events held there.
No doubt about it, Music City is true to its name.
What’s your favorite Nashville museum?