Museum Archives - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Smithsonian Channel Documentary Series at the Museum Starting Jan. 17

Bristol, Va.-Tenn. (Jan. 13, 2023) – As part of Bristol’s city-wide celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., the public is invited to attend free screenings of four Smithsonian Channel documentary films that focus on important – and often lesser-known – moments in Black American history. The screenings will be held in the performance theater at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum Jan. 17-19 and Jan. 21.

“We are proud to be part of Bristol’s celebration honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. and to share this insightful programming with the community,” said museum Head Curator Dr. Rene Rodgers. “As an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, we have the unique opportunity to partner with them to screen these documentaries at no cost to the public.”

A graphic with scenes from each of the films in the series plus show dates.

Jan. 17
11 a.m. & 3 p.m. EST
Seizing Justice: The Greensboro 4
(47 minutes)
The story of four African American college students who began a series of non-violent sit-ins at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and started a revolution.

Jan. 18
11 a.m. & 3 p.m. EST
Black Wings
(51 minutes)
Meet the men and women who took to the skies throughout the 20th century, proving to a segregated nation that skin color doesn’t determine skill level.

Jan. 19
6:30 p.m. EST
Screening & Discussion – Please RSVP
The Green Book Guide to Freedom
(51 minutes)
An exploration of Victor Hugo Green’s travel guide, published from 1936 to 1966, that helped people of color navigate the sometimes treacherous highways of a segregated nation.

Jan. 21
11 a.m. & 3 p.m. EST
Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier
(51 minutes)
Explores the untold story of the decades-long battle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to be the first superpower to bring diversity to the skies, told by the Black astronauts and their families who were part of this little known chapter in the Cold War.

Click here for a complete schedule of events.

The Jan. 19 screening of The Green Book Guide to Freedom is the only film in the series that will offer an accompanying discussion following the feature. The discussion will focus on sites in our region that were featured in “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” For this screening only, the public is asked to RSVP to attend through the link provided on the Events page on BCM’s website.

There is only one screening time for The Green Book Guide to Freedom, however, two screening times are offered for the other films in the series.

For more information about these and other BCM events, visit the Events page at BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org. For more information on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration activities in Bristol and the Tri-Cities, visit the YWCA of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia’s website at ywcatnva.org/mlk2023/.

More Than $1 Million in Grants Awarded to Birthplace of Country Music Museum Expansion

Bristol, Tenn.-Va. (Jan. 12, 2023) – The Birthplace of Country Music (BCM), has been awarded a total of $1,050,000 in grant funding from a number of sources that will help the nonprofit organization move forward on an expansion project for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, located in Historic Downtown Bristol, Va.-Tenn.

Last week the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission approved $500,000 for the BCM expansion as part of its mission to generate economic growth in agriculture and tourism sectors and attract new businesses to Southwest Virginia.

“The funding from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission will enable us to move forward on applying for historic and new market tax credits,” said Leah Ross, executive director of advancement for BCM. “Grant funding and tax credits ensures we’ll be able to open with zero debt.”

In December of last year the United States Congress signed the FY 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act into law. This omnibus included $500,000 of Community Project Funding to assist BCM with the building project.

BCM was also awarded $50,000 from the Genan Foundation, a private philanthropical foundation created in 1987 by the late Anne and Gene Worrell, who owned and operated Worrell Newspapers. The company started in Bristol and eventually purchased the Bristol Herald Courier, then expanded to include more than thirty papers across the country.

The former Automotive Service & Supply building, located next door the museum, was donated to BCM in 2014 by local businessman Joseph R. Gregory and his wife Cindy. The Gregory’s purchased the building from Cecil R. Hopkins, Jr. and his wife Angela. Hopkins’ father founded the United Motor Services parts franchise at that location in 1935.

According to Bristol, Va. tax records, the two-story, 7,800 foot structure, now referred to as the Annex, was constructed in 1881. The application form for downtown’s inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places indicates it was built circa 1900 and used as a grain, feed, fertilizer and cement warehouse. Hopkins confirmed the building later housed the Bristol Motor Company Buick dealership.

BCM plans for the building include a new special exhibit area and climate-controlled archival storage, in addition to adding offices, restrooms and event space. Some work has already been done to shore up the building’s structure and dig an elevator shaft. Once historic and new market tax credits are secured, renovations can begin. The project is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete once construction starts. The $3.6 million renovation will increase the museum’s size to 41,000 square feet.

For more information about BCM and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, click here.

Jason Ahner Discussion on Martin Guitars Nov. 8

Bristol, Va.-Tenn. (Oct. 25, 2022) – Music and history lovers, luthiers, and musicians – especially guitar players – are invited to join us for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s next Speaker Series featuring special guest Jason Ahner, archivist and museum manager for C. F. Martin & Co. The event will be held online only at 7 p.m. EDT, Nov. 8, and is free and open to the public – however, you must register online to join the conversation via Zoom.

“Jason Ahner is an authority on the origins of Martin guitars and their expert craftsmanship,” said Dr. René Rodgers, head curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Historic Downtown Bristol. “Guitar lovers may especially appreciate this program and the opportunity to ask Mr. Ahner questions.”

Based in Nazareth, Pennsylvania and family owned and operated since 1833, C. F. Martin & Co. is known world-wide for innovations in quality, beautifully crafted instruments. Founder C. F. Martin revolutionized the way luthiers build guitars with a technique he invented known as X-bracing, which made guitars sound better and more durable. A few decades later Frank Henry Martin created the Dreadnought, considered by many to be the most important development in the evolution of guitars.

Jason Ahner is a native of Pennsylvania and has been with C. F. Martin & Co. for more than a decade, serving as the company’s archivist since 2018 and managing its museum since 2019. Prior to this, Ahner held positions in customer service and the polishing department in the factory. He’s had a fascination with the guitar for as long as he can remember and began playing the instrument at the age of six. He’s studied the history of Martin guitar and other manufacturers for more than two decades.

Square Dance at The Birthplace of Country Music Museum Nov. 4

Bristol, Tenn./Va. (Oct. 20, 2022) – Grab your partner – or just fly solo – and head down to a good old-fashioned community Square Dance at 7 p.m., Nov. 4, in the Special Exhibits Gallery at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Historic Downtown Bristol. The event is free and fun for all ages, but you must RSVP online to attend.

Expert caller Tyler Hughes will lead the evening with live music to get your feet moving; no partner or previous dancing experience necessary, just the desire to have a great night out.

“After a two-year break, square dancing is back at the museum!” said Head Curator Dr. Rene Rodgers. “This is a wonderful event for everyone and a great way to create fond memories with family and friends.”

If you wish to RSVP to attend the event, you may do so online through the Events page at BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org. Participants are asked to wear comfortable, sturdy dancing shoes – no heels, please – to protect the gallery floor.

For a complete list of events and a comprehensive look at everything the Birthplace of Country Music has to offer, visit BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org.

“Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison” Film Screening Oct. 20

Bristol, Tenn./Va. (Oct. 14, 2022) – The public is invited to a free screening of the film “Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison” at 6:30 p.m. EDT, Oct. 20, at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The screening is companion programming to the special exhibit “1968: A Folsom Redemption,” on display now at the museum. Those who wish to participate are asked to RSVP online.

“This is the film that inspired Johnny Cash to write the song ‘Folsom Prison Blues,'” said museum Head Curator Dr. Rene Rodgers. “The screening will be held on the final day of the special exhibit. Attendees are invited to tour the special exhibit prior to the screening for free at 6 p.m.”

“Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison” is an American film noir crime drama starring Steve Cochran and David Brian, set in California’s Folsom Prison during the 1920s prior to the state’s prison reformation in 1944. The feature follows a sadistic prison warden who rules with an iron hand, leading to a revolt by the inmates. Johnny Cash saw the film while serving in the United States Air Force in West Germany upon its release; the feature was the inspiration for his hit song, “Folsom Prison Blues.” Directed by Crane Wilbur for Warner Brothers and released in 1951, the film runs one hour and 27 minutes.

For more information about the screening and to RSVP, visit the Events page at BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org.

Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired Brings “Out of Sight” Experience to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Bristol, Tenn. – Va. (Oct. 5, 2022) – The Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired is bringing it’s “Out of Sight” Experience to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, 12-4 p.m. EDT, Oct. 12, 2022. “Out of Sight” celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month and White Cane Day.

The public is invited to drop by anytime to enjoy the “Out of Sight” experience; however, a special presentation will take place at 2:30 p.m. in BCMM’s performance theater.

“It is very rewarding to work with DBVI to present the “Out of Sight” experience,” said Scotty Almany, Digital Media, Public Programs, and Exhibit Logistics Manager, Birthplace of Country Music Museum. “These are the kind of collaborative events that bring inspiration, awareness, and uplifting programming to our community.”

“Out of Sight” is a FREE event and includes drawings for door prizes.

Visit DBVI on Facebook for more information.

Spooky Stories and Terrifying Tales with the ‘Haint Mistress’ Oct. 4

Bristol, Va.-Tenn. (Sept. 27, 2022) – Foggy mornings…crisp mountain air…leaves tinging with red and gold…’tis the season of pumpkin patches, corn mazes and campfires – the perfect time for Spooky Stories and Terrifying Tales with the Haint Mistress of Abingdon, Donnamarie Emmert, at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. This kick-off to the Halloween season takes place Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. EDT and is free and open to the public.

“Donnamarie Emmert’s ghost walk tours in Abingdon have been a longstanding autumn tradition in our region,” said museum Head Curator Dr. René Rodgers. “We look forward to hosting the ‘Haint Mistress’ in Bristol for this family-friendly event.”

Emmert will share local and regional tales of goosebump-raising ghosts and witches, horrifying historical happenings, and more – the perfect way to get into the spirit of Halloween. Emmert’s stories are family-friendly; parents with younger children who may be sensitive to tales of the paranormal should use their own discretion.

Don your flannel and RSVP to join us in person for Spooky Stories and Terrifying Tales with the Haint Mistress of Abingdon at the museum. Those who wish to huddle ’round your screens in a candlelit room from home may register to join us online. Visit the Events page at BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org for more information and to RSVP or register.

About Donnamarie Emmert

Donnamarie Emmert has a Masters Degree in Storytelling and an outrageous love for things that go bump in the night and Halloween. She also has a ferocious attraction to history and uses her knowledge and experience to create memorable entertainment for her audiences.

“1968: A Folsom Redemption” Talk with Journalist Gene Beley Sept. 29

Bristol, Va.-Tenn. (Sept. 22, 2022) – Gene Beley, one of the journalists who covered Johnny Cash’s historic concerts at Folsom Prison, will share his experiences with the iconic country music artist at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Historic Downtown Bristol on September 29 at 7:00 p.m. EDT. The talk is complementary programming to the special exhibit 1968: A Folsom Redemption on display now at the museum through October 20.

It was early January 1968 when Gene Beley and Dan Poush, a writer-photographer team working for the Star Free Press out of Ventura, California, and national magazine freelancers, were invited to go to Folsom Prison. Beley notes: “In those days, before the At Folsom Prison album changed the singer’s life, our newspaper tended to write only negative stories about Cash. His own infamy had begun to overshadow the musical accomplishments of his earlier years; in short, Cash’s career was truly on the skids at that time.”

Though Johnny Cash was the star of the show and his visit to Folsom Prison was hugely impactful to his career, the concert was also the story of supporting players – from the connections laid by his good friend, Reverend Floyd Gressett, to the adventurous nature of Columbia Records’ maverick A&R man Bob Johnston, to the calming influence of June Carter (not yet Cash), to the meaningful contributions of Folsom Prison inmate Glen Sherley, whose song “Greystone Chapel” ended up on the album.

Gene Beley and Dan Poush sold their photo rights to the J. R. Cash Trust in order to preserve that moment in time for future generations. Gene will share memories, photos, personal stories, and audio clips from that fateful weekend, giving attendees behind-the-scenes access to Johnny Cash’s redemptive visit to Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968, along with other successful concerts in 1968 and 1969.

Tickets to the Gene Beley event are $15 plus tax/fees, and ticket holders may participate in a curator-led tour of the 1968: A Folsom Redemption special exhibit for free 6:00 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. prior to the program, which begins at 7:00 p.m. There will also be an audience Q&A after Mr. Beley’s talk.

For tickets and more information about the Gene Beley talk at the museum, visit the Events page at BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org.

Dr. Malcolm Smith on “Appalachian Fiddler Albert Hash” Aug. 9

Bristol, Va.-Tenn. (August 4, 2022) – Writer and banjo player Dr. Malcolm L. Smith will discuss his book “Appalachian Fiddler Albert Hash: The Last Leaf on the Tree” as part of this month’s Speaker Series at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Historic Downtown Bristol. The event will be held in the museum’s performance theater at 7 p.m. EDT, Aug. 9. The program is free and open to the public, with both in-person and virtual options for participants to join.

Luthier and 1995 NEA National Heritage Fellow Wayne Henderson credits his entire career to the mentorship of Albert Hash. “He was a true folk hero,” says Henderson in the forward to Smith’s biography. Born and raised near Whitetop Mountain in extreme poverty, Hash rose to become one of the premiere old-time fiddlers in the world with the Whitetop Mountain Band, as well as building hundreds of sought after fiddles in his shop on Virginia’s second highest peak.

With this Speaker Series, Smith will share stories and memories that he learned in over 100 hours of interviews conducted while researching Hash. During the program, a local musician will demonstrate Hash’s unique bowing style and play some of the fiddler’s songs. Smith will also sign copies of his book “Appalachian Fiddler Albert Hash: The Last Leaf on the Tree,” which will be available for purchase at the event.

Dr. Smith specializes in writing about old-time musicians. In addition to Albert Hash’s biography, Smith has written countless stories for The Old Time HeraldSingOut!, and other magazines. He has written feature stories on banjo builder Mac Traynham, 90-year-old banjoist Rhoda Kemp, Walt Koken and Clare Milner, and many others.

If you are planning to attend the Speaker Series in person, please RSVP using the link on the Events page at BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org. Those who wish to attend virtually must pre-register at the same location online.

Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” Guitar on Display at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Bristol, Va.-Tenn. (June 21, 2022) – The guitar owned by the iconic “Father of Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers, was unveiled today at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and will be on display at the museum for a limited time. Officially called the “Blue Yodel,” Rodgers’ custom-ordered the Martin 000-45 guitar and features the crooner’s name in pearl inlay on the neck. The word “Thanks” is written upside down on the back, and inside the sound hole there is a note from C. F. Martin & Company’s founder that reads: “To Jimmie Rodgers, America’s Blue Yodeler, with all good wishes – C. Frederick Martin III July 27, 1928.”

“We are so excited to have the opportunity to share the ‘Blue Yodel’ with our community,” said Head Curator Dr. Rene Rodgers. “It has been residing at the Jimmie Rodgers Museum in Meridian, Mississippi, and it came to Bristol for this temporary display thanks to the generosity of the family of Jimmy Rodgers. Having the guitar on display means so much and deepens the impact of the museum’s telling of the 1927 Bristol Sessions.”

Karen Court, a Rodgers family member and manager of Jimmie Rodgers Properties, said “In celebration of the 1927 Bristol Sessions’ 95th Anniversary, the Jimmie Rodgers Family is thrilled to share their “Blue Yodel,” Jimmie’s 000-45 1928 Martin guitar with the Birthplace of Country Music Museum – letting us honor their legacies and embrace our heritage and traditions.”

Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” is on display on the second floor of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and will stay there through March 2023. The museum is also planning public programming that will delve deeper into the life and career of Rodgers, including the story surrounding his very first recordings on the 1927 Bristol Sessions, which celebrates its 95th anniversary this year. The 1927 Bristol Sessions took place from July 25 – August 5; the recordings were produced by Ralph Peer for the Victory Talking Machine Company. Over that two-week period, 76 songs by 19 acts were recorded, including Rodgers, Ernest Stoneman (with family and friends), and the Carter Family, along with a variety of other musicians and singers. This moment in American history created what many musicologists refer to as the “big bang of country music.”

“Jimmie Rodgers is the ‘Father of Country Music,’ but his legacy stretches well beyond that,” said Thomas Ripsam, current CEO of C. F. Martin & Co. “He inspired generations of musicians across many genres with his playing, his songwriting, and his showmanship. We’re proud that a Martin 000-45 is a big part of that legacy.”

For more information about Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel,” the 1927 Bristol Sessions, and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, visit BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org.