Music of Tennessee

From Academic Kids


The story of Tennessee's contribution to American music is essentially the story of two cities: Nashville and Memphis. Nashville is most famous for its status as the long-time capital of country music. Memphis musicians had huge influence on blues, early rock and roll, and soul music.



Nashville, the most populated metropolitan area in the state, is home to the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame, and bears the nickname "Music City, U.S.A.". By the 1950s, the city's record labels dominated the genre with slick pop-country (Nashville sound). Performers reacting against the Nashville sound formed their own scenes in Lubbock, Texas and Bakersfield, California, the latter of which (Bakersfield sound) became the most popular type of country by the late 1960s, led by Merle Haggard. Nashville's predominance in county music was regained by the early 1980s, when Dwight Yoakam and other neo-traditionalists entered the charts.


Memphis' most significant musical claims to fame are as the apparent "Birthplace of the Blues" and "Birthplace of Rock and Roll". Famed African-American composer W.C. Handy is said to have written the first commercially successful blues song "St. Louis Blues" in a bar on Beale Street in 1912, and Memphis was a center of blues music for much of the 20th century (see Memphis blues). In the 1940s, Memphis was the home of blues guitar legend B.B. King. In 1952, Sam Phillips started Sun Records, a seminal early rock and roll and electric blues label. Among the artists who made their first recordings on Sun were Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, and Charlie Rich. In the 1960s and 1970s, the city was home to Stax Records, a legendary soul music record label. Stax put out funky, distinctly Southern records by artists like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett that stood in sharp contrast to the smoother, more pop records coming out of Detroit's Motown (see Memphis soul).

Punk rock

Punk rock was never strongly embraced in Tennessee. A few hardcore punk bands gained a following, including Committee for Public Safety (Nashville), From Ashes Rise (Nashville), and STD (Knoxville). Nashville's small but active punk scene reached its peak during the mid-90s. It was tied closely to Lucy's Record Shop, a popular all-ages venue where many Nashville bands, such as Los Straitjackets and Teen Idols, got their start.


Blush, Steven. American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Feral House. 2001. ISBN 0-922915-717-7


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