A Look at How Nashville Became Known as Music City

There aren’t many cities in the States or indeed in the world that embody music more than Nashville. It still permeates the fabric of the city, and is one of the reasons people flock from the world over to visit it. The Nashville of today wouldn’t be what it is without the many years of musical history and the legendary artists that came from the city. Let’s take a closer look at how and why Nashville became known as a music city.

The Late 1700s

The musical history of Nashville starts in the late 1700s when settlers arrived on the shores of the Cumberland River. They used to celebrate the end of their long trips with buck dancing and music played by the fiddle. Even the city’s most notable resident, David Crockett, was known for being a mean fiddle player. This eventually became part of the musical makeup of the city.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers

Nashville started gaining a reputation as a music publishing center around the early 1800s. But the group that was the most instrumental in establishing Nashville as a hub for musical talent was a young group of African American acapella singers called the Fisk Jubilee Singers. As a matter of fact, they were the first-ever group to do a world tour.

The young group used some of their proceedings to help fund Nashville’s Fisk University whose mission was to educate people who were enslaved after the civil war. Their music also helped propelled Nashville’s reputation as a global music city.

It is rumored that it was Queen Victoria who coined the term Music City. According to the story, Queen Victoria was so impressed after they performed some of their greatest hits that she said that the group must be coming from “Music City”.

However, while it is a very nice story, some contest it. One of these people is Fisk Jubilee Singers’ current director Paul T. Kwami. He believes that it was a famous DJ during the mid-twentieth century, David Cobb, who actually coined the term.It is said that he was the one who popularized it by using the moniker during one of the shows. It was during this time that WSM-AM, along with the Grand Ole Opry, was born too. 

The 1930s

During the 1930s the city became a center for, not only music, but for performing arts and entertainment. This is when the city started to really come into its own and build the identity it has today. The city was known for having the best dance clubs, bars, and speakeasies in the country. This is when Jefferson street as we know it today was born. 

The Golden Age of Nashville Music

The ’60s are when some of the city’s most stellar acts were born. This is where we get legends like Otis Redding and Etta James. You also had artists like Billy Cox, Little Richard, and Jimi Hendrix who held residencies in venues like Club Del Morocco and various other locations lining up Jefferson street. This is when the city became known for its R&B and rock & roll acts.

Nashville’s Historic Venues

Nashville has always been known for its great venues and this was one of the reasons why so many artists loved performing there. The most famous of them all is the Ryman Auditorium which was built by a riverboat captain by the name of Tom Ryman back in 1892.

The first group to ever perform there was the Fisk Jubilee. It was first called the Union Gospel Tabernacle, but was changed in honor of the founder after his death. It was referred to as the ‘Carnegie of the South’ and saw acts such as Marian Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Sandra Bernhardt, John Philip Sousa, Caruso, and Nat King Cole to name just a few.

The Ryman became the setting for the Grand Ole’ Opry in 1943 under Lula Naff’s management. The show was recorded there up to 1974. This is when the show saw country music hall of fame performers such as Patsy Cline, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, and Elvis. 

Today, the Ryman is celebrated as one of the most iconic music venues in the world and just celebrated its 125th anniversary. International stars who usually perform in arenas still come to the Ryman to perform select shows. Garth Brooks, The Foo Fighters, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, are just a few of the famous names to have performed there over the last years.

Nashville is also known for its great music studios. However, these can be difficult to book and are pricey for the average budding artist. If your goal is to come to the city to record, we suggest you check out rehearsal studios like Pirate.com. They have locations all over the state and the world and will grant you highly-professional facilities for a fraction of the price. Their locations are very easy to book and have all the equipment needed, whether you want to capture a professional recording or rehearse in a jam session.

Nashville’s reputation as ‘Music City’ is largely warranted and the city has brought us some of the brightest musical talents in history. We can expect this to continue with a new flock of fresh homegrown talent bursting onto the scene.


Kenny Chesney has built a career on offering hope, passion and the straight-cut joy of being alive. “American Kids” celebrated the exuberance of being young, truly original and coloring outside the lines. “Get Along” not only captured the reality of how much sweeter life is by coming together to create a community, but inspired a PSA which amassed close to three billion viewings for PassItOn.org.

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