October 26 is National Tennessee Day, and we want to share one of the many things that we think makes this state so great – its connection to music! As the “home” to seven genres of music – country, blues, bluegrass, gospel, soul, rockabilly, and rock ‘n’ roll – Tennessee’s music heritage is as diverse as its landscape. Beyond the lights of “Music City, USA,” the sounds of country music echo from the mountains of east Tennessee while the blues wails from the west. With so many musical points of interest – including our very own Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Tennessee/VA – the music heritage of this state runs deep.
In 2018 the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development launched Tennessee Music Pathways to help tourists and locals alike recognize the state’s significant musical history. Over 500 landmarks, attractions, and points of interest from all seven genres of music that call Tennessee home were identified, marked, and compiled into an online interactive guide. Using this guide, you can put together a driving tour across the state based on your own musical interests. You can search for sites related to a specific person or genre of music; search by type of venue or site such as a museum, recording studio, concert hall, historic marker, or festival; or by location if you have a destination already in mind and just want to turn up the volume on your trip by adding a few extra stops to your itinerary. The Pathway makes it easy to find music destinations to break up – and enhance – your drive.
Here are a few lesser known stops along the pathway you may want to visit on your way to or from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and Sun Studios, Graceland, or the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis.
Image from the Tennessee Music Pathways website
Lesley Riddle Marker
Pathway markers have been popping up all over the state to highlight locations where significant musical events took place, such as this marker for Lesley Riddle in Kingsport, Tennessee, the city where he and A. P. Carter met in the 1920s. Riddle was a musician and friend of The Carter Family who taught them many songs and influenced Maybelle Carter’s iconic “Carter Scratch” guitar style. Riddle also travelled extensively through the segregated south with A. P. as one half of an interracial song collecting duo. You can learn more about him by reading In Search of Lesley Riddle, one of our blog posts from 2017.
DeFord Bailey family with his Tennessee Pathways Marker. Image is from Smith County Insider
DeFord Bailey Marker
Another marker you won’t want to miss is located in Carthage, Tennessee. This marker honors DeFord Bailey, the first African American star of the Grand Ole Opry and the first performer introduced on the show under the name “Grand Ole Opry.” Bailey appeared on the show twice as often as any other artist in 1928 and remained a regular performer on the show through 1941.
Image from Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum website
Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum
In Jackson, Tennessee, you can visit the Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum. This is the original 1870s home of the railroad engineer who sacrificed himself to save his coworkers and passengers from a potentially catastrophic crash. Jones has been immortalized in country music with over 40 versions of the “The Ballad of Casey Jones,” giving him a nearly mythical status.
Image from Tina Turner Museum website
Tina Turner Museum
In Brownsville, Tennessee, stop in to see the Tina Turner Museum, which is housed in the Flagg Grove School – a one-room school building Turner attended as a child. The school was built on grounds donated by Turner’s great-uncle, Benjamin Flagg, in 1889. The school was moved from Nutbush and renovated in 2012 to house a collection of the “Queen of Rock’s” memorabilia, from stage outfits to gold records to yearbooks, as well as interpreting what education and school life would have been like for African American children in a small rural community in the 1940s through the 1960s.
If you don’t have time for a museum, maybe photo ops with public art pieces are more your speed! If so, check out Centerville, Tennessee’s larger-than-life statue of Minnie Pearl made entirely of chicken wire. And if you need a break while biking around Nashville, you can park your bike next to a giant microphone bike rack.
Photographs by Tony Stogsdill
In Musical Memoriam
You can even curate a personalized graveyard tour to honor and offer tribute to your favorite musical stars of the past. See the list below for just a few places where some of country music’s most beloved stars are resting in Tennessee. If you want to expand your trip outside the state, check out our blog post From Rhinestones to Tombstones: Memorial Monuments of Country Music’s Dearly Departed to learn more about the gravesites of some of country music’s dearly departed stars.
- Hope Cemetery, Franklin, Tennessee – Minnie Pearl
- Williamson Memorial Garden, Franklin, Tennessee – Sam McGee, Kirk McGee, Carl Smith, Goldie Hill, Skeeter Davis
- Hendersonville Memory Gardens, Hendersonville, Tennessee – Mother Maybelle Carter, Helen Carter, Anita Carter, June Carter Cash, Johnny Cash, Luther Perkins
- Ridgecrest Cemetery, Jackson, Tennessee – Carl Perkins
- Spring Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery, Madison, Tennessee – Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Louise Scruggs, John Hartford, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Jimmy Martin
- Memorial Park Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee – Sam Phillips, Marshall Grant
- Greenwood Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee – DeFord Bailey
- Harpeth Hills Memory Garden, Nashville, Tennessee – Chet Atkins, Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin, Eddie Miller
- Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee – Ernest “Pop” Stoneman, Hattie Stoneman
- Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, Nashville, Tennessee – Eddy Arnold, George Jones, Porter Wagoner, Tammy Wynette
- Oaklawn Memorial Cemetery, Sparta, Tennessee – Lester Flatt
Photograph by Lane Owens White
Erika Barker is the museum’s Curatorial Manager.