The Nashville Museum, which traces the evolution of black music – Indianapolis Monthly

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The Nashville Museum, which traces the evolution of black music - Indianapolis Monthly

The new National Museum of African American Music in Nashville celebrates the history of gospel, jazz, blues, hip-hop, rap, and more.

In the galleries of the NMAAM it is easy to follow the evolution of black music from gospel to jazz, blues and rap.Photo courtesy of NMAAM

James Brown, the godfather of the soul, The larger-than-life picture can be seen in the Rivers of Rhythm Pathways, the central gallery in the new National Museum of African American Music in Nashville (615-301-8724, nmaam.org). His dazzling, perfectly pompadoured image is projected onto a panorama of screens as he pulls out his 1960s hit “Out of Sight” and does his trademarked smooth footwork.

The 1964 footage is one of several highlights at the 56,000-square-foot museum that opened in January in the heart of the tourist district. An orientation film at the Roots Theater chronicles the 400 year history of black music in America and documents how it branched into dozen of genres, including jazz, blues, hip-hop, rap, and more.

Seven galleries with exhibits alternate between fun and seriousness. Gospel lovers can don a choir gown and join the Nashville Super Choir on the uplifting gospel classic “Oh Happy Day”. Her picture is then projected onto a screen, which she integrates into the choir. Do you think you could be the next big record producer in the music business? Try mixing your own beats in the One Nation Under a Groove gallery. The Wade in the Water gallery examines African American religious music that is largely rooted in slavery. The Message Gallery with its graffiti and streetwear fashion recreates the South Bronx in the 1970s, the birthplace of hip-hop and rap, when black kids from the depraved district used music to rail against social injustice. More than 1,500 artifacts include Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and Ella Fitzgerald’s Grammy.

NMAAM may be new, but it has an old soul. The music that emerged from centuries of African American struggle, oppression, joy and triumph is now the nation’s soundtrack. Turn it up.