Our music roots are laced with history and flowing with characters that run deep into the hills of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. A museum located in Downtown Kingsport is dedicated to the early 19th century mountain style that has evolved into the popular tunes of bluegrass and country music.
The Mountain Music Museum tells the story of how early styles from Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia have influenced today’s popular music genres through memorable voices, toe-tapping instruments and unique sounds coming straight from the hills of the Appalachian Mountains.
The museum was formed 21 years ago through the Appalachian Culture Music Association (ACMA), and now hosts exhibits from legends such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Flatt and Scruggs, Archie Campbell, The Carter Family, and more. There’s no end to the musical treasures that are continuously donated and uncovered according to the museum’s Executive Director Rick Dollar.
“We’ve seen visitors from nine countries and 38 states in the past year,” Dollar said. “They come in with a general curiosity about music and our area’s influence on the sounds of today. Visitors and locals fall in love with our people and the stories they tell through music.”
The Mountain Music Museum documents a few of the voices and sounds from the iconic 1927 Bristol Recording Sessions, undoubtingly putting Bristol on the map as the official birthplace of country music, according to the U.S. Congress.
“The more we looked, we realized that Kingsport and the surrounding areas were a big piece of the 1927 Bristol Sessions. One group that comes to mind is the Dykes’ Magic City Trio, hailing from Wise and Scott Counties in Virginia. They later settled in Kingsport and recorded familiar tunes such as Cotton Eyed Joe, Ida Red, and Huckleberry Blues.”
The Mountain Music Museum is also home to a rare record-a-phone donated by Gordon Acuff. Among the earliest recording devices, the machine includes sounds from music legends such as Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, and Charlie Acuff.
“We have quite a few one-of-a-kind pieces like that,” Dollar said. “I’ve even turned down an offer from Jack White for the record-a-phone.”
Another exhibit that generates interest is the Roy Acuff fiddle that can be seen from the museum’s front window.
“Roy’s fiddle was originally listed for auction on a Goodwill website in Kansas City. Our friend Lamar Peek was able to provide letters of authenticity and later donated the fiddle to the Mountain Music Museum,” Dollar said. “Its journey to Kingsport included a stop on the Huckabee Show, where it was played by Jim VanCleve, an expert fiddler currently playing for Josh Turner.”
The Mountain Music Museum is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 9 am. to 10 p.m. Admission is $5. You can also watch or listen to the Pickin’ Porch (96.3-FM), a weekly radio show recorded in front of a live audience on Thursdays at 7 p.m. Admission to the show is $10.
To plan your trip to Kingsport, go to VisitKingsport.com.