The city of Nashville is celebrated for its sound, with a history that covers genres and generations. But few are aware of one of its most enduring legacies.
“People worldwide know Nashville as Music City. But many do not know the key role that African American musicians served in creating that legacy,” said Latrisha Jemison, Regional Community Development and Partnerships Manager for Regions Bank in Nashville.
That’s why two philanthropic organizations came together – in harmony, of course – on Feb. 19, when the Regions Foundation joined the Mike Curb Foundation in announcing a combined $1 million gift to raise the curtain on an interactive musical experience unlike any other.
The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) is now under construction at the busy corner of Fifth and Broadway in downtown Nashville.
“This interactive museum is dedicated to preserving, educating, celebrating and communicating how African American musicians are at the heart and soul of the American soundtrack,” Jemison added. “It’s an honor for Regions Bank and the Regions Foundation to be affiliated with a community asset that will further elevate Nashville when the museum opens.”
The setting for the announcement was a music-filled, standing-room-only news conference directly across the street from the NMAAM construction site. Each foundation is independently contributing $500,000 to museum development.
“The National Museum of African American Music is going to make a statement for what the city of Nashville is,” announced H. Beecher Hicks III, President & CEO of NMAAM. “This project is about inclusion, and we want everyone in the city to become part of this movement, and this moment, to create this iconic museum in the heart of the city.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and State Sen. Brenda Gilmore shared similar messages as the gifts from the foundations were unveiled. Each leader celebrated the significant cultural and economic impact the museum will have.
“The African American story is like no other in our country, and music is the fabric that weaves this history together through time,” Gilmore said.
Encompassing 56,000 square feet, NMAAM will be a destination devoted to chronicling the history of African American music. Visitors will be transported throughout time and musical genres, ranging from the improvisational stylings of 1800s-era spirituals to James Brown’s revolutionary downbeat approach, which created an entirely new sound. Through its sheer size and modern approach to sharing the stories of musicians – and the lyrics and sounds they created – NMAAM is poised to revolutionize the way people understand the contributions of a wide range of musical artists.
Lee Blank, Nashville Market Executive for Regions Bank, shared how development of the museum directly aligns with the Regions Foundation’s approach to community investments.
“This gift represents the Regions Foundation’s support of a living, lasting legacy, which celebrates the unique journeys and immense talents of artists who have shaped music history,” Blank shared. “We know that the people of Middle Tennessee and visitors from throughout the globe will enjoy what this museum will offer for generations to come.”
The contributions made by the Regions Foundation and the Mike Curb Foundation are fueling a vision first shared by Nashville Chamber of Commerce members in 2002. With support from the foundations, along with other corporate and nonprofit partners, the vision is scheduled to become a reality when the museum opens in early 2020. NMAAM has achieved nearly 75 percent of its fundraising goal to date.
The museum will host traveling exhibits and house five permanent galleries featuring 25 interactive displays. It will showcase more than 1,400 artifacts.
NMAAM’s Fifth Street entrance will be named the Regions Foundation Grand Foyer, featuring an assortment of musical instrument replicas along its walls. The name featured on the museum’s Broadway Street entrance will celebrate an influential group with deep Music City roots – the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
“We’ve decided to name our gift in honor of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and highlight the impact they’ve had on our city’s rich musical history,” said Jim Ed Norman of the Mike Curb Foundation.
Established at Fisk University, the Fisk Jubilee Singers began as a nine-member choral ensemble led by George L. White, a Fisk treasurer and professor. To raise greatly needed funds for the university, the group first went on tour in 1871, performing early concerts in small towns.
The group broke racial barriers through its role as the first musical act to tour around the world. The singers performed stateside at the World Peace Festival in Boston and for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House.
As described during the Feb. 19 donation announcement, Nashville can even credit its lasting and endearing nickname to the choral ensemble. Following a performance the group delivered for England’s Queen Victoria in 1873, she noted the group sang together very well, adding that they must come from the “Music City.”
Fast-forward to 2019, and the music performed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and African American artists continues to motivate, influence and inspire. It’s a groove certain to last as the doors at NMAAM open for thousands to enjoy.
“Nashville needs NMAAM, and at the same time, NMAAM needs Nashville,” said Hicks. “There’s nothing quite like music to bring people together, and there will be no place on earth that celebrates this principle embedded in the history of African American music like the museum that you’re about to see.”
About The National Museum of African American Music
The National Museum of African American Music, set to complete construction in late 2019, will be the only museum dedicated solely to preserving African American music traditions and celebrating the influence African Americans have had on music. Based in Nashville, Tenn., the museum will share the story of the American soundtrack by integrating history and interactive technology to bring musical heroes of the past into the present. For more information, please visit www.nmaam.org.
About Regions Foundation
Regions Foundation is an Alabama nonprofit corporation with offices located at 1900 5th Avenue North, Floor 22, Birmingham, Alabama, 35203. It is exempt from Federal income tax as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Regions Foundation is funded primarily through contributions from Regions Bank. It engages in a community grant-making program focused on priorities including economic and community development; education and workforce readiness; financial wellness; and related initiatives fostering inclusive growth across the communities it serves.