National Museum of African American Music: A Don’t Miss in Nashville

Even though they call Nashville “Music City,” that has historically been all about country music. But in September of 2020, the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) opened right in the heart of downtown Nashville and if it’s not already considered one of Nashville’s premier attractions…then it should be. 

You might think that focusing solely on African American music (instead of culture in general) would limit the scope of this museum, but boy it sure doesn’t. 

Highlighting 50+ genres and subgenres and the historic and political climates in which they were created, yes this museum is about music, but also how the development of the music and music styles tells the history of a major group of people. 

Why You Should Visit the NMAAM

If you love or have an appreciation for African American history (especially music)

If you’re open to learning about a culture other than your own

If you love music and music history 

If you love world class museums

If you’re looking for something to do in Nashville besides country music

What I Thought

This is a fantastic museum. I’m not going to lie…a lot of the museums/attractions in Nashville (especially downtown) feel a little gimmicky ($25 for 20 minutes of “entertainment”), but this is NOT that. This is a world-class, Smithsonian caliber museum. 

As a frequent traveler (and history major in college), I always scope out the museums in a new city and while there are some subjects/time periods that I’m more interested in than others, I will always make time to visit a museum that’s “well done” even if it’s not about something that I’m particularly drawn to. 

Confession…while I love country music (and it was the main reason for the trip to Nashville), I wouldn’t say I’m a huge music person in general. Yes, I like to listen to it, but I’m not a music junkie. I wouldn’t normally seek out a museum about music, but this particular museum seemed important and I’d only heard extremely positive things about it. 

Well I’ll tell ya, it ended up being one of the best things I did in Nashville. Yes, the Country Music Hall of Fame is the #1 museum/attraction to visit in Nashville (for me), but the NMAAM is definitely #2 and if you’re at all inclined to do anything in Nashville besides drink on Broadway, you should make room in your schedule to visit. 

Highlights of the NMAAM

You’ll start your experience in the Roots Theater to see a film that sets up the museum experience for you. It’s equally educational and emotional. 

One of my favorite parts of the museum experience is that they give you an arm band with a swipe card on it when you check in. Then when you’re listening to any music at any of the interactive tables in the main entryway or side rooms, you can scan it to your band and when you leave they will email you a playlist with all of your music. 

Rivers of Rhythm Pathways: This is the main hallway that’s filled with the interactive tables. It cycles through a projection show that covers all of the genres and time periods that you’ll find in each gallery. You could stand or sit here and just listen to music for hours. 

From the Rivers of Rhythm Pathways, these galleries fan out:

Wade in the Water: The African American Religious Experience, Early 1600s to Present 

Crossroads: The Great Migration and the Emergence of the Blues, Early 1900s

A Love Supreme: The Harlem Renaissance and the Emergence of Jazz

One Nation Under a Groove: Civil Rights Movement, 1940s to Present

The Message: Urban Renewal, 1970s to Present

An interesting thing I learned: The “rock n roll” genre was really rhythm and blues (r&b) marketed to white people. 

Tips for Visiting the NMAAM

The museum is open Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays) from 9AM-5PM. 

Admission is $24.95/adult, $13.50/youth (7-17), $18.75/senior, 6 and under are free. 

Entry is timed with start times every 30 minutes into the theater and 90 minutes suggested to spend inside. 

My biggest tip is to pace yourself. We spent about the suggested 90 minutes inside and I definitely didn’t get to read and look at everything. If there’s a certain genre that interests you more than others, make sure to prioritize your time and energy to see that room. 

Find more info about visiting the National Museum of African American Music here

Would I Go Back?

I probably would. There was soooo much to read and see in this museum that I felt pretty overwhelmed almost right away and I definitely didn’t get to absorb everything so even without special exhibits, you could definitely do a follow up visit and still learn more. 

Other Things to Do in the Area (& Where to Eat Nearby)

Pretty much everything in downtown Nashville (which is where most visitors will spend 90% of their time) is within walking distance. 

Other Museums Nearby: Country Music Hall of Fame (world class-don’t miss), Johnny Cash Museum (go if you’re a fan), tour the Ryman Auditorium. 

Where to Eat Nearby: Nashville’s original hot chicken place (Prince’s) is right on top of Nashville’s most famous hot chicken place (Hattie B’s). Also pretty much every current country music star has a restaurant bar and grill on Broadway. 

More posts about the area:

Is Nashville Worth a Visit? The Lowdown on One of the US’ Trendiest Cities

Hot Chicken, Fried Chicken, Chicken ‘n Biscuits: Nashville’s Best Local Food

A Country Music Lover’s Guide to Nashville

How to Tour the Grand Ole Opry: The Ryman vs The Opry House

Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee

The Noelle: A Historic Hotel in the Middle of Downtown Nashville