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