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New museum celebrates Bristol’s status as the “Birthplace of Country Music.”

Debby Thomas

Ralph peer knew gold could be mined in the mountains along the Tennessee-Virginia border—musical gold, that is. That’s why the New York City producer for the Victor Talking Machine Company set up microphones in an old warehouse along Bristol’s State Street in July and August of 1927 and put an advertisement in a local newspaper inviting musicians to come and make their “hillbilly music” immortal.

A parade of string bands, family groups and various singers answered Peer’s ad to record at what famously became known as the “Bristol Sessions.” But two acts that summer would be heard louder than the rest: Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.

The success of those sessions—and the near-simultaneous discoveries of country music giants Rodgers and the Carters—prompted the U.S. Congress in 1998 to declare Bristol the “Birthplace of Country Music.” It also inspired plans for the long-awaited Birthplace of Country Music Museum, a 24,000-square foot Smithsonian Institution affiliate, opening in August at the corner of Moore and Cumberland streets in Bristol, Virginia.

The museum celebrates the historic “Bristol Sessions,” as well as how Rodgers and the Carters—along with an already-established singer, Pop Stoneman, who also recorded during the sessions—inspired musical traditions far beyond 1927.

“It’s a big story,” says the museum’s director, Dr. Jessica Turner, as she shows off two auditorium spaces, a replica of a country church, interactive exhibits, archival photographs and even a spot where visitors can yodel alongside Jimmie Rodgers. The museum’s 12,000 square feet of exhibit space also include several theaters and room for live year-round performances.

“I think people have known for a long time the importance of the Bristol Sessions, not just locallybut internationally,” says Turner. “This is a significant piece of recorded sound history.”

BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org


To experience more of Bristol’s all-star musical heritage, check out the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion September 19-21. BristolRhythm.com

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