The story below is an excerpt from our Sept./Oct. 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Dr. Jessica Turner, at BCM Museum.
Come the third weekend of September, the Virginia/Tennessee state line-straddling city of Bristol bursts with music during the Rhythm & Roots Reunion. This multi-stage celebration recognizes the twin city’s title as “Birthplace of Country Music.”
Today, that’s a title also being touted – and explained – at Bristol’s new Birthplace of Country Music Museum. This 24,000-square-foot facility, an affiliation of the Smithsonian Institution, features a replica of a country church, vintage photographs, a musical timeline, performance center, exhibits and a site where you can “yodel with Jimmie Rodgers,” says Dr. Jessica Turner, the director of the facility.
“We wanted it to be fun, innovative. We wanted it to be colorful.”
Bristol boasts many musical footnotes. It’s the birthplace of Tennessee Ernie Ford. It’s the hometown of singer-songwriter Dave Loggins. It’s where The Stanley Brothers played on live radio shows. It’s also where country music superstar Kenny Chesney recorded his first album at Classic Recording Studio – about a block from where the new museum stands at the corner of Cumberland and Moore streets in Bristol, Virginia.
The “birthplace” story, however, goes back to the “Bristol Sessions.” That’s when talent scout and producer Ralph Peer came from New York City in 1927, looking to record more successful stars like Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman, a “hillbilly music” pioneer from Galax, Virginia. As it turned out, Peer discovered two acts with names that are still recognizable today – Jimmie Rodgers, the yodeler who created the basis of honky-tonk music; and The Carter Family, which inspired country music’s reliance on melody, storytelling and the guitar as a lead instrument.
“People across the United States and internationally have a high regard for the Bristol Sessions and want to make that pilgrimage to where the Bristol Sessions were recorded,” Turner says. “This is that facility that is able to accommodate those visitors.