Country Goes to College
By David Ewing
The Music Row area was famous for education and the many schools and colleges nearby before it became internationally recognized for a place where music is written, produced, managed and recorded. Since its earliest days, Nashville has been known as a place where schools offered quality education. The nickname “The Athens of the South” was created by the president of Nashville’s first college, The University of Nashville. Today the nickname is still used, because Nashville has a higher concentration of colleges and universities than most cities in the United States.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, many schools and colleges were founded in downtown Nashville, including Peabody College, Montgomery Bell Academy, Ward Seminary, Fisk University, Nashville Normal and Theological Institute, The Wallace School and St. Bernard’s Academy. The city limits of Nashville were confined to the area of today’s inner interstate loop, since businesses wanted to be close to the Cumberland River, Union Station, the state capitol and the courthouse. By 1915, all of the private schools and colleges that had started downtown had moved further west, including many to the area of Music Row.
The first school in the Music Row area was Vanderbilt University. Started through a generous $1 million gift from railroad baron Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the school opened in 1873 on West End Avenue and Hillsboro Road. Before Nashville expanded to include this area, Vanderbilt was outside the city limits. The first line of Vanderbilt University’s alma mater is “On the city’s western border, reared against the sky.” Vanderbilt University would define this western part of the area as major educational buildings, dormitories, faculty homes and offices, a gymnasium and eventually a hospital were built. As these buildings were built, students followed – as well as infrastructure like water lines, sidewalks and streetcars. These also benefitted the Music Row area, which also received these improvements. Originally, the Music Row area was settled by people related to the nearby schools, Vanderbilt University, Ward Belmont, Peabody College and Peabody Demonstration School (now University School of Nashville.)
A year after Vanderbilt opened, an African American school named Nashville Normal and Theological Institute (later renamed Roger Williams University) purchased a 30-acre farm on Hillsboro Road south of Blakemore. The growing school offered education in normal, theological and collegiate educations and also offered its students a focus in music. Many of Roger Williams’ students worked in African American churches and schools’ music departments or with traveling African American performers or groups. After fires destroyed buildings around 1905, the school moved to the Whites Creek area.
The Music Row area provided schools and colleges more land, a true campus environment and easy access to downtown via the newly formed system of streetcar and trolley lines. Looking to relocate from downtown Nashville, Peabody College purchased the old Roger Williams University campus and started building dormitories, classroom buildings and a library.
In 1913, Ward Seminary, an all-girls school famous for its music conservatory program in classical training merged with another all-girls school, the Belmont College for Ladies, which was founded in 1890 on the grounds of Adelicia Acklen’s home. Similar to the other schools downtown, the Music Row area was more attractive, so the newly-merged school named Ward-Belmont was located on the current site of Belmont University. Ward-Belmont expanded their music program since they had more space, and the school continued to grow. Student recitals on campus were common, and students from all over the United States were attracted to the program. Their most famous entertainer who graduated from Ward-Belmont was Sarah Colley Cannon, who is more popularly known by her stage name Minnie Pearl.
Minnie Pearl joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1940 and was one of its most famous performers with her memorable country comic routine.
Peabody College of Vanderbilt University started the Blair School of Music in 1964, which was then a conservatory style of education similar to the well-known one previously offered at Ward-Belmont. Started originally for graduate instruction in music, Blair expanded their program to all students after Peabody’s merger with Vanderbilt University.
Across the street from Peabody College, the Peabody Demonstration School (now University School of Nashville) was founded as a kindergarten through 12th grade school two blocks from Music Row. Always a more creative, musically inclined school in Nashville, it includes some noteworthy alumni in its graduating classes, including an early rock ‘n’ roll legend. At the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era in 1957, Phil Everly of the singing duo the Everly Brothers graduated from PDS — the same year they recorded “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake up Little Susie.”
Often times today, a young musician or songwriter forgoes a college education to work on their craft to try to get a record deal. In Nashville, Belmont University, Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University embrace these future stars and offer classes, degrees and experienced faculty tailored to form a foundation in the classroom which will be helpful for future success in the music business. Belmont offers a Bachelors in Music degree with nine majors, including Commercial Music, Composition, Music Education, Church Music, Music with an outside minor, Music Theatre, Music Therapy, Performance, Piano Pedagogy and theory. For graduate students, Belmont also offers a Masters of Music Degree for students who want careers in commercial music, elementary, secondary school or college level music teaching, church music positions and music performance. Over the last 25 years, Belmont’s enrollment has tripled as the music programs remain very popular.
Belmont’s substantial music faculty includes individuals with experience and success in every part of the music business today. Today, many students select Belmont because of their reputation in the music industry and proximity to Music Row.
Just as the Fisk Jubilee Singers have been singing since 1871 and traveling the world, today’s Belmont graduates are Nashville’s music ambassadors and travel the country and the world singing, teaching and creating the music many enjoy. Famous graduates of Belmont University include Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, Josh Turner and Pam Tillis. Recent Belmont students Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard met their senior year on campus and shared a true talent for music. Both wanted to be performers, so upon graduation from Belmont, the two formed a group called Florida- Georgia Line, which has become one of the most popular acts in country music today.
In a town and industry where networking is important, a Belmont education opens up doors on Music Row because their quality training is recognized and there are so many other Belmont University graduates working in the industry.
Belmont also owns a major studio on Music Row called Ocean Way Studios. Housed inside a 100- year-old Gothic former church building where writer Tennessee Williams’ grandfather once led the congregation, this building and its acoustics are perfect for a recording studio. The building is divided into two studios, with the main Studio A that has 30-foot ceilings and 2,850 square feet of recording space with an 800-square-foot control room where the sound equipment is kept.
That area has a vintage Neve 8078 with 80 inputs of analog audio with a 64-channel monitoring section. Ocean Way’s Neve 8078 is the largest of its kind in the world.
Clients of Ocean Way include many of the most successful singers of all time, such as Amy Grant, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Lionel Richie, Trisha Yearwood, Dolly Parton, Donna Summer, Yo- Yo Ma, Toby Keith, Faith Hill and Paul Simon. Inside, many orchestra and strings projects are recorded. A growing business for the Music Row studio has been videogame scores and film scores which also often use this landmark studio.
Vanderbilt has also been known for its music programs and famous alumni as well. Singers Amy Grant, Dierks Bentley, Dinah Shore and Rosanne Cash all graduated from Vanderbilt University. Francis Craig, another Vanderbilt graduate penned their fight song “Dynamite” as well as Nashville’s first million album seller “Near You,” which spent a record 17 consecutive weeks at the No. 1 position on the Billboard charts in 1947.
Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music offers a variety of programs for those interested in classical music performance. Its undergraduate program is an important part of Vanderbilt University. Blair also offers a five-year Bachelor of Music degree with a Masters of Education, combining Blair’s Music and Peabody’s College’s nationally known College of Education and Human Development program. This program offers teacher licensure in instrumental music, vocal music and general music. Those students who are music- and business-minded can enroll at Blair’s Bachelor of Music and Owen School of Management’s MBA program. This five-year program offers a Bachelor’s degree from Blair and an MBA from the Owen School.
Blair offers a performance major in 18 different areas including violin, tuba, horn, piano, flute and trumpet. Students receive individual instruction through solo recitals and other performance and participation. The Blair School of Music believes those future performers who understand and appreciate music’s history and progression of the form today will be better trained performers. At Blair, students learn about music through history and literature. Blair’s referral service gives students opportunities and experience for paying jobs in Nashville during their course of study.
Just south of Music Row lies Lipscomb University, founded in 1891 as a primarily religious school offering a liberal arts education. An outgrowth of the Churches of Christ denomination and founded initially as the Nashville Bible School, Lipscomb University and its K-12 preparatory school Lipscomb Academy have provided a sound education for like-minded students for over 120 years. In recent years, its impact on the music industry has grown substantially. Their College of Music has been recognized by Steinway & Sons with their All-Steinway School status. A fraction of colleges and universities across the globe receive this designation, which is a compliment to Lipscomb’s efforts to provide a world-class education for their students. Their newer program, the College of Entertainment & the Arts, provides a hands-on education in Nashville’s thriving music industry.
Graduates of Lipscomb University who have had a strong impact on the entertainment industry make up a long list that includes both legendary performers, current hitmakers and others in film and television entertainment platforms. This list includes country performers Kelsea Ballerini, Dustin Lynch and Thomas Rhett, actor Casey Bond, children’s animator Jim Jinkins of Doug and Pinky Dinky Doo fame, as well as the iconic Pat Boone and the esteemed portrait artist Michael Shane Neal, whose paintings of political leaders hang in major galleries across the world, including official commissions from the U.S. Capitol and premier educational institutions of major leaders such as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and U.S. Senator Arlen Specter. Lipscomb continues to mold its graduates to succeed in a wide range of artistic and entertainment venues and provides an excellent counterpoint to Nashville’s colleges and universities that provide an education in the arts and entertainment.
The Music Row area is a place where creativity and talent meet, which is a perfect setting for an education and universities. The students provide Music Row the necessary talent pool needed as the music industry continues to evolve and technologies of the recording industry continue to change.
Today an artist needs talent to make it on Music Row. As many of the most famous artists and music industry executives have also learned, an education is also helpful for success in the music industry. Nashville’s educational institutions provide an excellent stage to educate its students in the business of music and in the business of life.