Photo Credit: Chris McCain Brownsville Press

The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center kicked off its 20th Anniversary by opening the exhibition, I Have a Voice: Tennessee’s African American Musical Heritage, on January 12. The exhibition, organized by the Tennessee State Museum, gives a snapshot of Tennessee’s rich African American musical heritage and its influence on worldwide musical genres.

“I am excited to kick off our year-long 20th Anniversary celebration with an exhibition that means so much to our community here in Haywood Country,” says Sonia Outlaw-Clark, Executive Director of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center. “Some of the most influential African Americans that would impact music and culture around the globe resided here in Haywood Country. From an international, record-setting icon Tina Turner to the blues pioneer Sleepy John Estes and many others, we’ve been preserving and exhibiting African American heritage for 20 years and are honored that we are the first museum to host the ‘I Have a Voice’ exhibition.”

The Volunteer State has been the birthplace of some of the most influential music in the world, from the Beale Street blues clubs in Memphis, to the R&B scene on Nashville’s Jefferson Street and Knoxville’s Gem Theatre. The history of African American music follows the hardship of slavery in America. American slaves adapted their African ancestors’ music to hand clapping, singing, the fiddle and the African–derived banjo. Expressing their sorrows from bondage, and joy for their ultimate deliverance, these enslaved persons found an original, musical voice sung in their spirituals and folk music. This voice has left a monumental cultural stamp on American music, including blues, ragtime, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and soul music. In turn, this music has influenced and enriched music around the world.

Photo Credit: Chris McCain Brownsville Press

The exhibit introduces viewers to many famous Tennessee music legends — Bessie Smith, who was nicknamed the “Empress of the Blues;”  B.B. King, often referred to as the “King of the Blues;” Grand Ole Opry star DeFord Bailey; and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Tina Turner. The exhibit gives visitors a chance to hear the voices of the many Tennessee African American men and women who made their mark on American music from ragtime to Motown. Visitors can view YouTube videos of various performers and musicians featured in the exhibition on their smart phones or tablets through the use of QR-coded links. Educators who are interested in teaching about Tennessee’s African American musical heritage will be provided with curriculum-based educational lesson activities.

I Have a Voice: Tennessee’s African American Musical Heritage will be on exhibition throughout Black History Month and close on March 3, 2018.

About the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center
The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center offers a refreshing Southern experience showcasing the history and culture of rural West Tennessee. Inside, visitors can learn about the history of cotton, explore the scenic and “wild” Hatchie River and get to know the legendary musicians who call West Tennessee home. Also, located on the grounds is Flagg Grove School, the childhood school of Tina Turner now home of the world renowned Tina Turner Museum, and the last home of Blues pioneer Sleepy John Estes. The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center is located along the Americana Music Triangle, the world’s #1 music destination – a preservation project along a 1,500-mile stretch of highway that birthed nine uniquely American genres of music.

To stay updated on the latest news from the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center and the Tina Turner Museum, visit the following recently redesigned site: westtnheritage.com

About the Tennessee State Museum
The Tennessee State Museum was established by law in 1937 “to bring together the various collections of articles, specimens, and relics now owned by the State under one divisional head,” and “to provide for a transfer of exhibits wherever they may be.”

Today, the Tennessee State Museum is housed in the James K. Polk building in downtown Nashville, where it has been for nearly 35 years. Gov. Bill Haslam proposed and the Tennessee General Assembly approved $120 million in the FY-2015-16 budget to build a new home for the Tennessee State Museum on the Bicentennial Mall to maximize the state’s rich history by creating a state-of-the-art educational asset and tourist attraction for the state. The governor also announced that $40 million would be raised in private funds for the project.

A 140,000 square foot facility is being built on the northwest corner of the Bicentennial Mall at the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Jefferson Street to tell Tennessee’s story by showcasing one-of-a-kind artifacts, art and historical documents in an interactive and engaging way. More information on the museum can be found at tnmuseum.org.