I’ve often said I have one of the best jobs on earth. I work with amazing people to save some of the best places in the country. I get to see some amazing sites. I have the chance to explain why these places matter.
Last Monday was one of those days.
The National Trust designated Nashville’s Music Row as a National Treasure. Nashville is undergoing an amazing transformation, where growth is putting pressure on some of the most important places in the history of country music. When a threat arose last summer, Musician Ben Folds and several other Nashville insiders worked hard to save historic Studio A from demolition. We joined them in this fight and – in the process – expanded our reach to all of Music Row. Knowing of my Tennessee roots and my love for roots and country music, our team asked if I would help launch our campaign. It took me about 3 seconds to say yes.
As you can see above, we had a great turnout from the media and from friends in Nashville. It was a great day professionally and personally. Ben and Mike Kopp of the Music Industry Coalition were incredibly articulate spokesmen for the preservation of Studio A and Music Row – and two very nice guys. Sharon Corbitt-House – who runs Studio A for Ben and Mike – was ready to fight the bulldozers to save this treasure. Aubrey Preston – one of the huge heroes in this saga in that he bought the building at the 11th hour – was already a preservation hero of mine for his work to save the historic Franklin Theatre, where my father had been a projectionist in the 1930s. I had a chance to talk Doc Watson and Gallagher guitars with Congressman Jim Cooper. Heck, I was even in the “Picture of the Week” from the Nashville Business Journal laughing as Ben was taking a photo of the media taking pictures of him.
So, it was another great week in my job. But the threat to Music Row is real – and it isn’t going away. There’s much to be done. I know that my colleagues and I will work hard to help the good folks in Nashville to save this special place. And I hope that my words last Monday will help. Here are my remarks from the press conference last Monday in Studio A after I was introduced by Ben Folds:
Ben Folds has been one of the heroes of the fight to save Studio A – telling the story of this place as persuasively as he tells stories in his music. And he fits into a great tradition.
Singers and songwriters in Nashville have been telling stories of life’s ups and downs for decades. Some of the stories I remember are Sunday Morning Coming Down. He Stopped Loving Her Today. I Fall to Pieces. Jolene – which was recorded in this very space.
Music Row has had its share of ups and downs. But like so many characters in a country song, it survives. It is time we ensure that we tell the story of the place that produced these classics. It is time we ensure that the buildings that made that story possible have a bright future.
So as a native Tennessean who grew up with a deep love for the music of this city, I’m pleased to be with you as we look toward a future for Music Row that fits Nashville’s role as the heart and soul of country music.
We have much to celebrate today – the designation of Music Row as a National Treasure….
The formation of the Music Industry Coalition to help secure a future for this landmark….
And, of course, the fact that we are gathered here in this historically significant studio which was saved from demolition just a few weeks ago.
Although it seemed Studio A was destined to be lost, we can see today the new partnerships that emerged along with the enthusiasm and commitment to plan a future for Music Row that honors its unparalleled place in America’s cultural life.
I am delighted to be here today to officially name Music Row as one the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Treasures.
The National Trust is the nation’s largest private organization dedicated to saving America’s historic places, with more than three-quarters of a million members and supporters.
While the Trust’s awareness of Music Row’s challenges began with the short-term “save the place” campaign for Studio A, the need to address the long-term sustainability of Music Row quickly became apparent.
The challenges for Music Row are different from those we frequently see in our preservation work across the country. In many places we are faced with economic distress and a lack of jobs.
In Nashville, the opposite is true. By 2035, the city will be 20% larger. More than 12 million visitors each year come to experience Music City.
We only have to walk out this door to see the result. Construction is everywhere. Development has begun pushing toward Music Row creating pressures to sell properties to make way for new apartments, condos and hotels.
As residents have watched what is happening, a citywide conversation has emerged: What is the future of Nashville and where is the place for our culture and heritage? Particularly important for all of us here today is the question: Do we want to imagine a Nashville without Music Row? I don’t. It’s the heart and soul of this great city and a national treasure.
In 1954 Owen and Harold Bradley opened the first music business in a Quonset hut on 16th Avenue. For the last 60 years music businesses have worked here in late 19th and early 20th century residences or larger commercial buildings. This eclectic mix of buildings and businesses has created a unique environment – the kind of cultural district that cities across the country are spending millions of dollars to create as part of a creative economy. We have it here in Nashville. Right now!
Through events and activities in the coming months, the National Trust and our partners will continue to increase awareness and appreciation for Music Row’s history, the impact it has on Nashville’s economy and the worldwide recognition Music Row brings for Nashville.
Music Row joins a diverse portfolio of more than 50 places around the country that are threatened and face an uncertain future. These National Treasures include historic buildings, neighborhoods, communities, landscapes, ships, and engineering landmarks.
Our National Treasures campaigns demonstrate the value of preservation by encouraging Americans to take direct action to save places and promote their history and significance. As the Presenting Partner of the National Treasures program, American Express has pledged $2 million to help promote and enable the preservation of these cultural and historic places. The National Trust is mobilizing its more than 60 years of expertise and resources to help protect this place.
Although we know the music came from here, until now the story of Music Row has not been fully told. Nashville’s visitors know the singers and the songs that were recorded here. It is “their” music as well.
All of which bring us back to this building and the studio which holds so much of Music Row’s history. We look forward to working with the Preservation Partners as exciting plans develop to celebrate Studio A’s 50th anniversary and to position the studio for another 50 years as an irreplaceable part of Music Row.
But we will not work alone.
I want to applaud the work that Mike Kopp and the board of The Music Industry Coalition have undertaken in the past six months, bringing together property and business owners, musicians, artists, songwriters and others who will work together to plan and advocate for Music Row.
Historic Nashville, Inc. – with special thanks to Melissa Wyllie and Robbie Jones – held its annual “Nashville Nine” announcement here last September, adding more voices of support to save the studio while they contributed funds to our first project of documenting the history of Music Row. Historic Nashville is the newest official local partner of the National Trust, and we look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.
I want to thank Metro Nashville Historical Commission executive director Tim Walker for his leadership in raising funds for our historical research and documentation project, especially in his work to gain contributions from the newly formed Metro Historical Commission Foundation and our statewide preservation partner, the Tennessee Preservation Trust.
Our thanks also go to Terry Clements, vice president of government and community relations, and Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation for their financial support of the historical research project.
To Gail Danner and the Danner Foundation – thank you for your financial support of our historical research project.
I’d like to recognize Congressman Jim Cooper who is here with us today. Congressman Cooper is a hero to the music industry – thanks to his work to enact new legislation that now allows musicians to carry their instruments onto planes as carry-on luggage. For any of us who have seen our guitars disappear into the bowels of an airplane, we say “thank you!”
Finally, there are four people I would like to recognize individually:
- Thank you Mayor Dean for joining us today and for your support and encouragement these last few months as we have all worked together to organize and prepare for today and the work that will come in the months ahead.
- Ben Folds for sounding the alarm and making all of us aware of the impending loss of this historically significant building and the importance of planning for Music Row’s future. As he has said, “He was the one with the flashlight” shining it on this special place.
- Trey Bruce for organizing a “Save Studio A” campaign that quickly built a network that included over 13,000 Facebook friends and kept the media focus on the studio throughout the summer and early fall.
- And especially we say thank you to preservation hero Aubrey Preston for his understanding that this building holds much of Nashville’s music history and for stepping in to save it. We are also excited about the newly formed “Preservation Partners” with Mike Curb and Chuck Elcan joining Aubrey to renovate and revitalize this building.
The National Trust’s designation of Music Row as a National Treasure brings our commitment to demonstrate the value of preservation of this place and to plan for its sustainable future. We have assembled a team with expertise in historic preservation, real estate development, heritage tourism, community engagement and public relations to work with our local partners. Many of you have already met and have been working with our National Trust team, but I will quickly introduce them – Carolyn Brackett, who lives here in Nashville, is our project leader and an indispensable part of this effort. In addition, I want to recognize and thank Alicia Leuba, Grant Stevens and Erica Stewart. You will be seeing a lot more of them.
Four years ago I wrote an op-ed for the Nashville Tennessean, in which I said, “It matters how we build our communities and how we preserve them. When we lose the places that matter to us, we lose more than buildings—we lose the sense of community and the sense of civic pride and responsibility that follows. Being thoughtful stewards of these places is hard work. But it’s a job worth doing. We’re not just hanging on to yesterday, we’re building tomorrow.”
Some of my favorite country music songs – like the ones I mentioned earlier – are tinged with sadness. But that will not be Music Row’s fate. We look forward to working with all of you in the coming months to help forge a happy ending for this national treasure, so its studios and musicians can keep moving us with their stories for decades to come.
More to come…