Disrespect is often the impetus for making history. For the first time in U.S. history, Black people’s contributions to American music will be the sole focus of a new museum, The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) in Nashville. The fact that sentence is true in the year 2020 is a slap in the face to the slaves from centuries ago whose hymns were stolen to create music genres dominated by white people. Even recently, Jalaiah Harmon had her Renegade dance co-opted by white TikTok influencers.
The idea for the museum first germinated in 1998 and has raised $60 million since 2002. The NMAAM will be a 56,000-square-foot experiential museum housing 25 interactive displays and 1,500 artifacts that piece together the story of African Americans’ indelible mark on the tapestry of American musical culture. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’s long hooded jacket, bodysuit, shorts and high-top sneakers will be on display, along with Nat King Cole’s Argyle sweater, Whitney Houston’s leopard print dress made by Christian Dior and hundreds of other pieces of music history.
Ethnomusicologist Dina Bennett is the museum’s senior curator and is responsible for helping curate the artifacts and experiences the museum will use to educate the masses. Henry Beecher Hicks III is the president and CEO, who joined the board in 2010 and became the CEO in 2013. Besides the cement and funding, the museum was founded on this belief that the history of American music hasn’t been wholly told without the proper canonization of African American art.
“Despite the fact [that] hip-hop and R&B are the biggest genres of music in the world today, too often we don’t pay attention to how significant the African American contribution has been to American music overall,” Hicks told ONE37pm. “We’re not focusing on a particular genre, artist or label. We’re really going back through American history and saying, ‘Let’s help the American public understand how critical African American contributions have been to American music since the 1600s.”
The museum plans to open in early September with grand-opening plans slated to be announced in the spring. Museum membership is currently available on the NMAAM website for $25 for seniors and students and going up.
ONE37pm spoke with Hicks and Bennett about which parts of African American history showcased in the museum are seldom told, the celebrities who helped bring the museum to fruition and how exactly hip-hop will factor into the museum.