CULTURE: America and Music
“American roots music is at the center of this country’s soul. Without roots music, there would be no American music or modern pop culture today. No jazz, no rhythm and blues, no pop, no rock and roll, no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no MTV, no rap. Field hollers, work songs, and the old folk songs that people brought with them from the British Isles—these are the earliest sounds of our music heritage and the source of the many great music forms that would follow. Blues, gospel, country, bluegrass, cajun, zydeco, and tejano are just some of America’s amazing musical expressions. They sounded wonderful when they first entered our musical consciousness, and they still sound that way today.”- Bonnie Raitt from the Foreword in American Roots Music What do Muddy Waters, Maybelle Carter, and Ma Rainey all have in common? They are all American music pioneers and they’re all from the South of course. This past year I have been plugging away at my thesis which studies Georgia’s rich music history and its contribution to the development of American music as a whole. Obviously I love music; my parents raised me on the Doobie Brothers, Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd and my grandparents had me hooked on Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash before middle school. My thesis has continued to foster my love of “old” music and has illuminated America’s history complex and sometimes dark history through its music and incredible artists.
Through my research, I discovered a unique initiative organized by the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street Organization is an initiative to bring innovative exhibits to engage smaller communities small town audiences and brings revitalized attention to under-served rural communities through their own Main Street museums, historical societies and other cultural venues.
Museums on Main Street features several traveling exhibits, and I ventured down to Madison, Georgia to the Madison Morgan Cultural Center for the New Harmonies exhibit. The circa 19th century school house in downtown Madison, Georgia is a perfect gallery/museum space with its high ceilings and gorgeous natural light.The building itself is stunning: Romanesque revival in style with deep red brick , high arched windows, and a three story bell tower.
The New Harmonies exhibit is a fantastic exhibit providing information to foster a deep appreciation for our country’s musical heritage in a fun and interactive way. The exhibit takes visitors through the beginnings of the Blues, Country, Gospel, Folk with old photographs, quotes from musicians, instruments, and of course music. There are listening stations where we could sample music from each genre and subgenre of tunes: country western, swing, polka, Chicago blues…the list goes on and on. I definitely caught myself swaying and singing “Crazy” made famous by Patsy Cline. Luckily, no one else was in the room at the time. The exhibit also featured a wall of of records of artists featured in the exhibit. This was one of my favorite parts of the exhibit. I love album art and it was so neat to see so many old records in one place…some I had never seen before.
To round out my week full of roots music and kick off the holiday week, I spent Sunday night at the Classic City American Music Festival hosted at the Melting Point in Athens, Georgia. The festival features fantastic regional bluegrass and country bands and classic American fare. This year’s lineup featuring The Corduroy Road, Darnell Boys, Mountain Heart, and Packway Handle Band, did not disappoint! Happy 4th of July y’all! No matter where you are this holiday, I hope you enjoy some great music with friends… I know I will.