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Music City 101: NLS Heads to Nashville!

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Last month country music legend Dolly Parton joined Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden in a presentation to celebrate the achievements of Parton’s book-gifting organization (video of the event available here). They announced that the Library of Congress Young Readers Center is partnering with Parton’s charity to provide a special series of story time events. Parton received the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress in 2004 (as did Johnny Cash in 2000). The Library has a fascinating digital collection on its website called Dolly Parton and the Roots of Country Music, where you can learn not only about Parton’s career but also view a country music timeline and read about Appalachian music and bluegrass music.

This Nashville connection strikes me as auspicious because here at the National Library Service we are eagerly preparing for the 2018 National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, which will be held in June in Nashville, Tennessee.

Color photograph of the exterior of the Ryman Auditorium.
West front view of the Union Gospel Tabernacle, also known as the Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville. Photograph by the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1933.

(The photo shown above is of the Union Gospel Tabernacle, which opened as a house of worship in 1892. It was renamed the Ryman Auditorium 1904 in honor of its founder and came to host many concerts, lectures, and stage shows. From 1941 to 1975 Nashville radio station WSM broadcast its weekly program the Grand Ole Opry from the Ryman, making it the epicenter of Nashville’s country music industry.)

Nashville–Music City. I had always taken that moniker for granted, but recently I began to wonder where it came from. I decided to learn about the history of this city and the music that made it famous throughout the world. Until recently I knew very little about the history of country music, or “hillbilly music,” as it was called in the early days of recording it for sale to the public. The question I asked was “How did Nashville, once known as the Athens of the South, come to be called Music City? How did the Ryman Auditorium transform from the Carnegie Hall of the South into the home of country music?”

Thanks to the NLS Music collection, I can now tell you that the fascinating answer has to do with the National Life and Accident Insurance Company’s Nashville-based radio station WSM, the WSM Barn Dance radio show (first broadcast in 1925 and later known as the Grand Ole Opry), the Ryman Auditorium (long-time home of the Opry), Ralph Peer recording the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in the Bristol sessions in 1927…and on it goes from there.

In this article I want to share with you books from the NLS Music collection that have helped me gain a basic understanding of how Nashville became, well, Nashville! I invite you to embark on a musical voyage with me, exploring the NLS collection so that we can all appreciate the utterly compelling history of Music City, USA.

Black and white photograph showing the stage of the Ryman Auditorium.
View toward the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. Photo by the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1933.

The following titles in the NLS collection provide an overview for the newcomer of the inception of the country music industry in Nashville:

If you would like to borrow any of the books listed above or learn about the many other books we have on country music, please contact the NLS Music Section by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 1-800-424-8567, extension 2. You can also search BARD, the Braille and Audio Reading Download service, for books in the NLS Music collection that you can access instantly.

To learn more about books in the NLS Music collection related to country music, check out some of our past blog posts:

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