‘I Have a Voice’ celebrates Tennessee’s African American musical heritage

COOKEVILLE – The Cookeville History Museum will present “I Have a Voice: Tennessee’s African American Musical Heritage” on March 10 with an opening reception from 1-3 p.m.

The exhibit, organized by the Tennessee State Museum, gives a snapshot of Tennessee’s rich African American musical heritage and its influence on worldwide musical genres.

“Everyone knows Nashville is ‘Music City,’ but the entire state of Tennessee, from the Beale Street blues clubs in Memphis to the R&B scene on Nashville’s Jefferson Street to Knoxville’s Gem Theatre, has been the birthplace of some of the most influential music in the world,” Beth Thompson, Cookeville museums manager, said. “Cookeville and the Upper Cumberland, having its own rich musical culture, is a great locale to learn about and celebrate the contributions that talented African American musicians, such as B.B. King and Tina Turner, gave to our state.”

In addition to King, who was often referred to as the “King of the Blues,” and Turner, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, the exhibit introduces viewers to many famous Tennessee music legends, including Bessie Smith, who was nicknamed the “Empress of the Blues” and Grand Ole Opry star DeFord Bailey. Visitors will have a chance to hear the voices of the many Tennessee African American men and women who made their mark on American music, from ragtime to Motown.

Tennessee State Museum officials noted that the history of African American music follows the hardship of slavery in America. These slaves adapted their African ancestors’ music to hand clapping, singing, the fiddle and the African-derived banjo. Expressing sorrows from bondage and joy for their ultimate deliverance, these people found an original, musical voice sung in spirituals and folk music – a voice that left a monumental cultural stamp on American music, including blues, ragtime, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and soul music.

“We’re so fortunate to have a great friend in the Tennessee State Museum to partner with on wonderful traveling exhibits like this one,” Thompson said. “If you can’t make it to Nashville to visit the State Museum, the State Museum will come to visit you.”

Cookeville History Museum visitors can view YouTube videos of various performers and musicians featured in the exhibit on their smart phones or tablets through QR-coded links. Educators interested in teaching about Tennessee’s African American musical heritage will be provided with curriculum-based educational lesson activities.

“I Have a Voice: Tennessee’s African American Musical Heritage” may be viewed through May 3 at 40 E. Broad St. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 931-520-5455.