The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Country Music's Treasure House

By Pauline Prosser and Don Wick

Issue: April, 1987

The Country Music Hall of Fame.The Country Music Hall of Fame.For millions of country music fans around the world, Nashville, Tennessee is "Music City, USA." Each year hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Nashville in search of the city's most famous commodity. For many of them the shrine is a barn shaped building called the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Firmly planted in the heart of Nashville's "Music Row" district at the corner of 16th Avenue and Division Street and surrounded by many of the city's 270 music publishing companies and 62 recording studios, the museum is as winsome as the music it shelters and the country music legends who populate it. The more than 20,000 square feet of floor space contains two movie theaters showing rare television and film clips and 14 separate exhibit areas.

One colorful exhibit highlights the various aspects of the Grand Old Opry through its history. "The Grand Ole Opry: The First 60 Years," documents the Opry's birth in 1925 when the Nashville based National Life and Accident Insurance Company launched radio station WSM as an advertising medium. Sixty years of memorabilia in this collection   costumes, instruments and other artifacts   bring the visitor to the current Grand Ole Opry, now part of Opryland USA Inc., and housed in a state of the art theater at the Opryland USA entertainment complex.

Another intriguing exhibit is dedicated to the songwriter and includes the original manuscripts of many hit songs   one is written on a real estate form and another on the back of an old grocery list. There are also audio interviews with famous writers.

Among the treasure house of personal effects on display are dozens of stage costumes; Minnie Pearl's flower laden straw hat, complete with dangling price tag; and Kenny Rogers' outfit for the television movie, "The Gambler." Other interesting artifacts include such things as letters from Hank Williams, Dolly Parton's first record made when she was 13, and Chet Atkins' first guitar. Other articles include a rare 5 cent "junior" record manufactured from paper during the Depression.

Like all good museums this one has amusing surprises. Consider the original documents granting Merle Haggard a full pardon for armed robbery signed by ex California governor Ronald Regan, or nostalgic kinescopes of a lanky, leg shaking performer named Elvis Presley.

One gallery honors contemporary country music superstars. On display through September 1987, "The Willie Nelson Exhibit" documents the life and career of the famous singer, songwriter and film star. The five part show portrays Nelson's life and career from his Texas youth through his emergence as an American folk hero. This gallery will house a continuing series of salutes to country music superstars.

The Artist's Gallery is a sight and sound exhibit featuring color transparencies of 114 country stars. As each artist's best known recording is played and his familiar music fills the room, his picture glows and flickers so that it stands out from the others.

Nearby is a glass enclosed room where one can actually hear a taped recording session, complete with advice form the record producer.

General admission to the Country Music Hall of Fame includes admission to a recording studio, RCA's famous "Studio B" where major artists once recorded. Visitors are allowed to sit on Elvis Presley's high backed stool or play Floyd Cramer's piano and take part in a sound mixing session.

The Hall of Fame itself enshrines more than 50 of the immortals of country music   the songwriters, executives, musicians and singers who helped shape the growth and development of country music. A beautiful bronze plaque with brief biography, a lifelike painting and highly personal items go with each of these luminaries.

The Country Music Library and Media Center is renowned for its research capabilities. It contains the world's largest collection of country music, 140,000 recordings, many of them irreplaceable. Adjacent rooms contain thousands of fan club magazines, trade publications, 16mm films and related items. The museum's reputation for technical expertise, "cleaning up the sound" of old films or records, for example, is becoming worldwide. This section, however is open only to students, journalists and other researchers by special appointment.

The Hall of Fame gift store offers re issues of early country music records, specialty books and other collector's items, for sale on the premises or through the gift catalog.

For more information about Nashville and the Country Music Hall of Fame, contact the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development, Room T, Box 23170, Nashville, TN 37202.