The Quonset Hut, first added to the Bradley Studios as additional recording space from surplus military equipment commonly used in the 1950s and ‘60s, became a classic itself, seeing hit after hit recorded within its walls. After years of being used for unrelated functions by multiple corporations, the Quonset Hut was restored to a vintage look and feel and has become part of Belmont University as both living history and a working studio.
The Hayes family, beginning with The Hayes Family, beginning with Judge Oliver Bliss Hayes, has many connections to Nashville today – his property became Music Row, one of his daughters married into the McGavock family for which McGavock High is named, and his son Oliver built his home “Ensworth,” which shares the same name as the street and school.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers received one of the highest honors just two years after beginning their ensemble– singing before the Queen of England, which they did in 1873. After hearing their performance, Queen Victoria remarked that they must be from the musical city of the United States – and Nashville’s nickname of “Music City, USA” was born. The portrait commissioned by Queen Victoria still hangs in an honored position at Fisk University.
The first radio station in Nashville was built by a 16-year-old Boy Scout! Jack DeWitt started the first radio station to ever broadcast from Nashville, beating WSM and WLAC by a number of years.
WSM stands for “We Shield Millions,” the tagline for the insurance company that owned the radio station. National Life & Accident Insurance Company started WSM as a way to sell more insurance!
Today’s WSM tower beside I-65 south of Nashville is one of the oldest and tallest radio towers in the country! With its rarely seen diamond shape, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was even part of federal emergency plans for communications with submarines in World War II!
Many famous individuals have hosted shows on WSM. We bet you didn’t know that one of the radio hosts on WSM was none other than Pat Sajak, the host of “Wheel of Fortune!”
Professional harmonica player DeFord Bailey was the first African American artist to perform on the Grand Ole Opry.and was one of the earliest performers on the new station in the 1920s!
It was station personality George D. Hay, nicknamed “The Solemn Ole Judge,” who first called WSM’s radio programming the “Grand Ole Opry.” Radio was so popular at the time that even during the Great Depression, nearly every family had a radio as its single form of mass entertainment. Families would gather around the radio like we do television or tablets today!
The Ryman Auditorium is often referred to today as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” since it was originally built for religious meetings as the Union Gospel Tabernacle by its original owner, steamboat captain Thomas G. Ryman. Ryman built it after he was converted to Christianity upon hearing a sermon preached by evangelist Sam Jones. It was at Capt. Ryman’s funeral that Jones declared the building should be renamed the Ryman Auditorium in his memory.
Bruno Mars credits Elvis Presley as one of the largest impacts on his musical career. As a young child, Bruno Mars learned many Elvis hits and became famous as a young boy for his remarkable Elvis renditions!
The phenomenal guitar legend Jimi Hendrix was also seen playing on “Night Train” in his very first televised performance? Hendrix was part of Night Train’s house band. If you watch the recorded performances closely, you can see the left-handed Hendrix playing and even dancing a little himself, behind the headlining act.
Nashville’s Musician’s Union was one of the first in the nation to include African-American musicians on its roster. Formed in 1896, the American Federation of Musicians was established to unite professional musicians and ensure that they were properly paid for their work. Large cities like Chicago once had segregated local unions—one for African American musicians and one for white musicians. However, the Nashville Musician’s Union was never segregated, which meant that both white musicians and African-American musicians were united under the same local union.
The now-shuttered OPpryland Theme Park was a popular tourist and local attraction first constructed in the 1970s. The theme park rides were named after classic country songs – like this “Wabash Cannonball” roller coaster. The “Wabash Cannonball” was a song made famous by both the Carter Family in 1929 and Roy Acuff in 1936. Other rides had names like “Tennessee Waltz.”
Fan Fair, known today as the CMA Music Fest, originated from the Country Music Disc Jockey Convention and Grand Ole Opry Birthday celebration that began to attract many people to Nashville. After seeing the influx of visitors for this celebration, WSM leaders proposed a fan-friendly event that would allow visitors to see their favorite country music artists up close and even allow fans to meet the artists. The first Fan Fair was held April 12-15 in 1972!
Husband-and-wife songwriting team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote hundreds of hits songs for many legends of country and pop music. Their catalog boasts many impressive tunes, including the song many Everly Brothers’ hits and even the song “Too Many Chicks,” the hit recorded by Leona Douglas, the first African-American woman to record a country song!
The team of Nashville recording session musicians known as the A-Team, are credited for creating “the Nashville Sound,” known for orchestral arrangements and strings in the background. The A-Team was called on to perform the music for a majority of hit records and worked with recording artists from Elvis and Quincy Jones to Patsy Cline and Charley Pride.
Bet you didn’t know one of the very first viral videos and Internet memes has a direct link to Nashville! The Hampster Dance, wildly popular in 2000, was based on the song “Whistle Stop” that legendary country performer Roger Miller wrote for the 1973 Disney film “Robin Hood.” Small world, huh?
Bet you didn’t know that rock icon Bob Dylan recorded in Nashville! Yes, he did! He recorded four albums in Nashville in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Performing in the band on those albums was none other than country legend Charlie Daniels, arguably most famous for his fiddle-playing hit song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
Taylor Swift is now a world-renowned star who made an incredible impact on the music industry at an early age. Though she started out playing country music, she has also been successful in other genres with equal impact. This also holds true for the great Brenda Lee, who has had an enormous impact on multiple music genres including pop, rock and country and is most famous for her hits “I’m Sorry” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” In their own generations, both Taylor Swift and Brenda Lee have successfully conquered multiple musical styles with great success, often blending pop and country together.
Nashville has seen many young stars go on to have successful careers as adults. It may come as a surprise, but Taylor Swift is just one of a long line of artists who first hit it big as kids! Let’s count. Brenda Lee was 12 when her first hit charted. Tanya Tucker was 13 when her hit song “Delta Dawn” first hit the charts. Alison Krauss was 16 when her first album was released on Rounder Records. Leann Rimes was 13 when her song “Blue” was released.
An especially impressive individual attended the dedication of the Grand Ole Opry’s new Opry house in March 1974. President Richard Nixon was the honored guest of the festivities and even performed on the piano and entertained the crowd with Roy Acuff with a yo-yo during his visit to The Grand Ole Opry’s dedication.
Chet Atkins is universally known as the architect of “the Nashville Sound,” the legendary producer who anchored RCA Studio B for decades and a master guitarist who sat in on more recording sessions than nearly anyone in history. In many ways, Nashville’s music industry is like one big family. Chet Atkins’ impact on today’s “Nashville Sound” is still making ripples, all the way to many of today’s master guitarists, including Steve Wariner, who was taught guitar by Atkins himself, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. You can trace the roots from many of Nashville’s early legends right to the hits of today!
It’s so true when they say “All roads lead to Nashville.” You can trace a line through Nashville for almost every hit performer and band in the past decades. Try these on for size! J.T. Harding, a hit songwriter for many country artists, has also opened for none other than Linkin Park – which is what led to his songwriting deal. OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, who has also written hits for Adele, Demi Lovato and Ludacris, to name just a scant few, got his start in Nashville as an intern for Dreamworks on Music Row! Superstar Beyoncé is one of many artists who has benefitted from songs written by Tedder, who co-wrote the song “Halo” with E. “Kidd” Bogart and Beyoncé herself.
The Bluebird Café, while a small restaurant and music venue by name, has become one of the most iconic performance venues in Nashville! Its style of performance, commonly called “in the round,” is known worldwide as a type of performance that first began at the Bluebird! Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), located on Music Row, now owns and operates the Bluebird, ensuring that this musical piece of history is preserved and continues to thrive. It has seen many hit songs born here, and it has helped launch the careers of Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks and many others. Today, it is famous for showcasing up-and-coming artists as well as some of Nashville’s most successful writers and artists.
Actors John Travolta and Debra Winger starred in the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy,” which had a great influence over the country music scene in the ‘80s. Songs like “Lookin’ for Love” and “Stand by Me” had a great impact. Line dancing and two-stepping became the norm in country nightclubs, along with the iconic mechanical bull!
HeeHaw was a variety style show featuring country music, artists and comedians and aired for a total of 23 years. Despite the show’s country “cornpone” style, it was successful even in major markets like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York and hosted performances by many of the country stars of the day. It can still be found in syndication today, nearly 50 years after its first broadcast in 1969!
Billy Ray Cyrus first became famous in the ‘90s with his world-wide hit “Achy Breaky Heart.” He is also famous for starring in the PAX television series “Doc” and in the Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana” with daughter Miley Cyrus. Maybe it’s in the genes, because Miley is also a world-renowned star famous for both her music and her acting. It’s a small world, because Miley’s godmother is none other than the legendary performer Dolly Parton!
Elvis Presley, known as “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll,” started out right here in Nashville! His first hit song “Heartbreak Hotel” was recorded here! The adoration of his fans has not been seen since – when Elvis was invited to the Tennessee State Capitol, the screams from his young fans in the gallery are said to have shaken the Capitol to its foundation!
It was recording artist Ben Folds who first focused attention on the plight of Music Row studios in light of massive re-development in today’s growing Nashville. It was only after seeing Nashville lose a number of historic recording studios and seeing the same fate ahead for the iconic RCA Studio A that caused Folds and a number of other philanthropic leaders, including Mike Kopp, Sharon Corbitt-House, Trey Bruce, Aubrey Preston, Mike Curb and Chuck Elcan, to rally and successfully save the studio from demolition.
The Beatles recorded right here in Nashville! In fact, Paul McCartney and his wife Linda spent time in the Nashville countryside as they recorded in the 1970s for his band Wings, whose hit song “Junior’s Farm” was inspired by their stay with country songwriter Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr.