Music City Rhythm & Blues


How Nashville’s vibrant, pioneering R&B community played a significant role in building Music City’s worldwide reputation

Don’t miss Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues Revisited, on exhibit at the Museum from April 25, 2024 to September 2025 and celebrating the inaugural Night Train to Nashville exhibit’s 20th anniversary.

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In the meantime, explore the Museum’s online exhibit below.

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Billy Cox bass

Cecil Gant, at piano, recording with a crew of Nashville musicians in the WSM studio. From left: Charley Grant, Farris Coursey, Jack Charamella, Ted Swinney, and Gant, c. late 1940s.

“Nashville really jumps!” sang Cecil Gant in 1946. Gant would know, as he was one of the many stars playing rhythm & blues in the emerging capital of country music. During the years when Nashville grew into its title of Music City USA, Black artists such as Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix spent hours of bandstand apprenticeship in Nashville’s Black nightclubs. At the same time, Nashville radio station WLAC blasted rhythm & blues across half the United States when most radio considered the music taboo, and Black and white musicians made hit records together in Nashville studios, in tacit disregard of segregation. As this online exhibit reveals, their music continues to reverberate through American Culture and Music City to this day.

A portion of the Night Train to Nashville exhibit, 2004-2005.

Adapted From An Award-Winning Exhibition

Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945–1970 opened at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on March 27, 2004, occupying a 5,000-square-foot gallery for nearly two years. Curated by the museum’s staff, the exhibit examines the impact of the R&B music that emerged from a city more famous for country music. A compilation album coinciding with the exhibit won a Grammy for Best Historical Album, and the exhibit itself earned the museum a Bridging the Gap Award for the promotion of interracial understanding from the Nashville chapter of the NAACP. In its review of the exhibit, the Journal of American History called the Night Train to Nashville exhibit “a project that has definitely raised the bar regarding what people will expect of their public history.”

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