NASHVILLE — You can find Oklahoma in Nashville, if you know where to look.
For instance, sharp-eyed visitors to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum can see, inside a glass-enclosed exhibit, a promotional poster for a decades-ago rodeo at the Ken Lance Sports Arena in Ada, Okla. Among performers at the rodeo: Reba McEntire and the Singing McEntires. Reba and two siblings formed the group when she was in the ninth grade.
The poster represents a cool little slice of history and there’s no better place to explore country music history than Nashville, which is home to the Grand Ole Opry and more music museums than you can visit in one day.
Three of them were sampled during a recent trip to Nashville. Here’s what was seen (or learned):
Johnny Cash Museum
Within walking distance of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum are museums devoted to country music artists, including the Johnny Cash Museum, Patsy Cline Museum and George Jones Museum.
The Johnny Cash Museum features the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia. There once was a House of Cash museum in Hendersonville, Tenn., but it is long gone and items inside that museum found new homes, including the Johnny Cash Museum.
Mark Logsdon, executive director of PLA Media, provided a guided tour of the Johnny Cash Museum and said the museum piece that “hits me the most” was a poem that Cash wrote to wife June as he was leaving her funeral.
“It is just raw emotion,” Logdson said.
Johnny and June died within four months of each other in 2003.
Logsdon said many items in the museum are in Johnny’s handwriting because there was talk of creating a museum while he was still alive.
Should we call him Johnny or J.R.? Logsdon said Cash’s legal name was J.R. (and that’s how the name appears in a school yearbook on display). Cash wasn’t permitted to have initials for a name when he entered the military, so he became Johnny, according to Logsdon.
Displays in the museum provide access to Cash’s personal life and a detailed recap of a one-of-a-kind career. A wall of Cash records is a “wow” visual and so many others have covered Cash songs that there’s an exhibit on that, too. Raise your hand if you knew Leonard Nimoy once covered “I Walk the Line.”
Videos of Cash performances and audio recordings are of course part of the museum, but this is not just a see-and-hear museum. There are interactive options, too. Want to be a music producer and “pull out” different parts of songs to see how they might sound? You can do that.
If you’re looking for Oklahoma connections inside the Johnny Cash Museum, he once won a Grammy Award for writing the liner notes in a Bob Dylan album. Tulsa is home to The Bob Dylan Archive.
Cash’s home in Hendersonville burned to the ground in 2007. Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees bought the home before it burned. A stone wall in the rec room of the home was salvaged and now is part of the museum.
Fittingly, one of the last things visitors see before exiting the museum is Cash’s poignant video for the song “Hurt.”
“He basically recorded his own obituary,” Logsdon said.
Patsy Cline Museum
The Johnny Cash Museum (opened in 2013) and Patsy Cline Museum (opened in 2017) are located in separate parts of the same building.
The Patsy Cline Museum was the beneficiary of good timing. Details:
As a youth, Cline worked as a soda jerk at a drug store in Virginia. The drug store was located across the street from a radio station and she was able to watch performers through a window. Cline had an epiphany. If people can make it from the radio station to the drug store, then she could go the other direction. That’s what she did. She got her start singing on the station.
Because the drug store closed before the museum opened, a sign and booth from the store are now part of a display recreating that drug store experience.
Cline became a pioneering figure in music and, as exhibits attest, a jukebox hero. Visitors to the museum will learn that she sang the most-played jukebox song (“Crazy”) of all time. Two of her songs made the all-time juke box top 17. The Beatles are the only other artist or music group on similar turf.
One of the displays focuses on the 1985 biographical movie “Sweet Dreams,” which rekindled interest in Cline’s career 22 years after her death. Jessica Lange played Cline in the film. Beverly D’Angelo played Cline in a biographical film (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”) about Loretta Lynn. That’s D’Angelo’s voice you hear narrating a video about Cline’s life that plays inside the museum.
A head-on automobile crash could have ended Cline’s career at age 29. She died in a plane crash at age 30. The wristwatch she was wearing on the plane is among items in the museum. The watch stopped at the moment of the crash. Digital versions of Cline’s wedding album and personal scrapbook are available for page-by-page viewing, as are letters to and from fans.
When Cline was young, money was tight, so it was a big deal when her family was able to buy a big-ticket item like a vacuum cleaner. Keepsake? The family saved the check that was used to pay for the vacuum cleaner. See it for yourself at the museum.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Garth Brooks has friends in low places, but you’ll start in high places at the multi-level Country Music Hall of Fame and work your way down from the top floor.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum houses the world’s largest collection of country music artifacts and of course you need a big building for that — so big, in fact, that Taylor Swift’s tour bus, Webb Pierce’s Nudie Mobile (silver dollars in the upholstery), Elvis Presley’s gold-plated Cadillac and a Bandit car from the “Smokey and the Bandit” films are parked inside and they barely take up a sliver of the space.
The museum’s collection includes nearly 200,000 sound recordings (including an estimated 98 percent of all pre-World War II country recordings released commercially), approximately half a million photographs, hundreds of musical instruments, thousands of clothing items and more than 30,000 “moving” images on film, video and digital formats. Only one-tenth of items are on display at any given time.
Let’s not attempt to talk about everything currently on display, but “Hee Haw” lovers will be glad to know the “kornfield” from the show has been preserved in the museum.
If you’re looking for Oklahomans in the museum, you’ll find pretty much anybody and everybody with a link to the state: McEntire, Brooks, Vince Gill, Roy Clark, Wanda Jackson, Bob Wills. You’ll even find a shout-out to radio station KVOO and Tulsa on a map display of country music towns.
Clark died last year. An “in memoriam” video of Clark is shown on a large video screen on the lower level.
Interactive displays on the lower level will be of interest to young visitors who otherwise might not like museums. Among the last things you’ll see is a circular room with walls covered by Country Music Hall of Fame plaques. Because the room has windows, sunshine hits the plaques and provides a natural glow. The glow confirms what you already knew. Musically, Nashville is a magical place.
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