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Carnegie Hall of the South: Nashville’s Musical Legacy, Part 2

This is the second half of a two-part post on Nashville’s musical history and related books in the NLS Music Collection. Read the first part here: Athens of the South: Nashville’s Musical Legacy, Part 1.

Nashville’s most famous music venue, the Ryman Auditorium, was completed in 1892 and was originally a church called the Union Gospel Tabernacle. With the addition of a gallery in 1897, it became the largest assembly hall in the South and hosted a wide variety of events, such as conventions, lectures, political speeches, recitals, and musical programs. John Philip Sousa’s Peerless Band first performed there in 1894, and in 1896 the Fisk Jubilee Singers gave a joint concert with the Mozart Society. Although the addition of a stage in 1901 reduced seating capacity to 3,500, it allowed the Ryman to host the Metropolitan Opera for the first time in a performance of Carmen that year. Opera-style boxes were added to the gallery before the performance.

Color lithograph advertising opera star Emma Calve

Mr. John Cort presents Calvé. Color lithograph by the U.S. Lithograph Co., 1907. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/var.0160

The subsequent decades saw the Ryman host a veritable parade of celebrities musical and otherwise under the leadership of indefatigable manager Lula Naff, earning it the nickname “Carnegie Hall of the South.” Indeed, by 1909 the Ryman had developed a “national reputation for its acoustic properties” and regularly hosted recitals by famous opera singers, such as Emma Calvé in 1906, Emma Eames in 1909, and in 1916 John McCormack, known as the “World’s Greatest Lyric Opera Tenor.” The first ticketed event to sell out the Ryman was Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy’s appearance in 1913, at which Keller gave a speech and answered questions from the audience. The 1919 season saw performances by the Vatican Choirs, opera stars Enrico Caruso and Amelita Galli-Curci, and an all-star opera cast that presented Verdi’s Rigoletto and Aïda. Mamie Smith and the Jazz Hounds gave the first documented blues performance at the Ryman in 1921. Contralto Marian Anderson, the first permanent African American member of the Metropolitan Opera, graced the stage in 1932, and in 1937 the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo performed Swan Lake, Prince Igor, and Aurora’s Wedding. Six years later the already-venerable Ryman became the home of the Grand Ole Opry radio show, thus signaling a new phase of popularity for country music. Indeed, Opry star Minnie Pearl remembered, “I was aware that things had changed when we moved into the Ryman.”

Black and white photograph of Amelita Galli-Curci

Amelita Galli-Curci, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left. Photographic print ca. 1919. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c05244

Listen to this 1917 recording of Amelita Galli-Curci and Enrico Caruso singing in the quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore” from Verdi’s Rigoletto, courtesy of the Library of Congress National Jukebox.

I invite you to celebrate Nashville’s rich musical past with the following books and sheet music from the NLS Music Section. This is but a small selection of our books on these topics. Please browse our Music Appreciation Catalog, Music Instruction Catalog, and Large-Print Scores and Books Catalog. Contact the Music Section by phone at 1-800-424-8567, option 2, or e-mail [email protected] to learn more.

Audiobooks

Braille books and sheet music

Large-print books and sheet music

  • Carmen libretto in French and English (LPM00457)
  • Rigoletto libretto in Italian and English (LPM00450)
  • Aïda libretto in Italian and English (LPM00445)

Additional related resources from the Library of Congress:

 

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