PHOTO COURTESY OF SONNA ROBINSON
By LANDON WOODROOF
The Rotary Club of Brentwood got a little dose of music history at its Friday meeting.
Ben Hall, the major gifts manager at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, stopped by to share some stories about the Nashville institution.
“Please breathe a sigh of relief. You heard my title but I’m not here to ask for money,” Hall joked at the beginning of his presentation, which ran through lots of eye-popping numbers about the over-350,000-square-foot CMHOF.
For instance, in 2016, for the second year in a row, the museum had more than 1 million visitors. Over 15,000 toured the historic Hatch Show Print shop while over 100,000 toured the legendary RCA Studio B, both owned by the CMHOF.
In that same year, the museum welcomed 97,000 students who participated in over 1,000 educational programs.
Those numbers make the CMHOF one of the top 10 most visited history museums in the country, Hall said.
Hall was keen to discuss the historical nature of the museum’s work. The museum does feature exhibits on modern entertainers and current musical trends. However, at its heart, it is dedicated to American history. It is devoted to viewing said history through the lens of the genesis and evolution of the music we now call country.
Indeed, that historic mission is the CMHOF’s very raison d’etre: “The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum seeks to collect, preserve, and interpret the evolving history and traditions of country music. Through exhibits, publications, and educational programs, the museum teaches its diverse audiences about the enduring beauty and cultural importance of country music.”
A careful devotion to research and education is a main reason the CMHOF has been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, Hall said.
“We’re proud of that designation because of the recognition of the scholarly interpretation that happens there,” he added.
The museum’s storehouse is vast and incomparable. The staff utilizes the artifacts found there to help fulfill that mission. While the museum has over 2.5 million items in its collection, it only has room to display 12 percent of them at a time.
As Hall explained, some of the museum’s most prized possessions come in the form of recorded media. The museum has over 200,000 sound recordings, representing 98 percent of all pre-WWII recorded country music.
“We’re really excited to have some of the rarest items,” Hall said. “The country music recorded not just here but in the foothills of the Appalachians and the southeast before WWII.”
Over 1.5 million examples of printed material are also part of the museum’s holdings. Those printed materials range from promotional and business materials to handwritten notes and lyrics. Hall made special mention of the fact that the museum has John Hartford’s original lyrics for “Gentle On My Mind.” Apparently, Hartford scrawled down those lyrics on legal pad in a burst of inspiration he experienced after watching the film “Doctor Zhivago.”
Hall said that the museum is currently deeply involved in the process of digitizing its collections so that scholars from around the world will be able to access them. Over 22,000 rare items have thus far been digitized.
At the end of his presentation, he took questions from the rotary audience, one of which centered around how the museum deals with the issue of modern versus traditional country music.
“The music is so varied now and there are so many options under the country music umbrella,” Hall acknowledged. He said that the museum did the best it could to reflect the full spectrum of country music both today and throughout its history.
There will always be an exhibit highlighting current country radio hits. However, there will always be an exhibit nodding to the past through modern-day practitioners of classic country.
“We just try to tell the story under the same roof,” Hall said.
For more information about the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, including information about upcoming events and how to become a member, visit its website.
The Rotary Club of Brentwood meets at noon each Friday at the FiftyForward Martin Center at 960 Heritage Way in Brentwood.