4 Stops on the Tennessee Music Pathways That Have Made Tennessee the Soundtrack of America
From the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville to Beale Street in Memphis, people around the world instantly connect Tennessee with music. Yet, the full story of the state’s musical heritage runs much deeper. Discovering Tennessee’s rich artistic roots requires a road trip that covers the entire state and crosses multiple musical styles.
The new Tennessee Music Pathways allows travelers to explore the history and creative culture that gave rise to the many genres that call Tennessee home, including rock, blues, soul, R&B, country, bluegrass and gospel. The interactive website makes it easy to create customizable driving tours specific to a geographic region, musical category or type of attraction – such as museums, festivals or photo ops – to make every journey unique.
Many of these are lesser-known artists who made a big impact in the music world. In fact, the first Tennessee Music Pathways marker is in Morgan County, home of Clarence Beeks, who performed as King Pleasure and influenced many musicians, most famously Van Morrison.
The following are just a few of the sights and sounds that have made Tennessee the soundtrack of America.
Cleveland Supports Southern Gospel with a Red-Back Hymnal
A simple red songbook with a gold cross and the words “Church Hymnal” across the front produced in Cleveland, Tennessee, has come to be viewed as the quintessential anthology of Southern gospel.
“In 1951, Tennessee Music & Printing, now known as Pathway Press, began publishing the church hymnal that is affectionally known as the Red-Back Hymnal,” says Melissa Alley Woody, vice president of Tourism Development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
The classic hymns were selected and compiled by the Church of God, and a first printing of 25,000 was ordered for churches interested in a book of praise songs. Today, well over six million copies have been printed and distributed to different denominations around the world.
The book was originally printed in shape notes with each shape tied to a tone on the musical scale. “People didn’t have to actually read music,” Woody says. “They could learn to sing the gospel by singing the shape-note sounds.”
To share the rich history of the Red-Back, a committee of community leaders came together to create a permanent exhibit in Cleveland, which opened in 2015 at the Museum Center at 5ive Points.
“So much of our musical heritage is rooted in gospel music,” Woody says. “There were five African-American songwriters included. One was from Chattanooga – Cleavant Derricks wrote ‘Just a Little Talk with Jesus.’ ” The hymnal, Woody adds, is filled with page after page of instantly recognizable gospel classics including “I’ll Fly Away,” “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm.”
Woody says the exhibit brings the music to life with a listening station, videos, artifacts and information on shape-note singing and underscores Cleveland’s lasting impact on gospel music.