The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia celebrates Bristol’s musical heritage and the historic 1927 Bristol Sessions. Opening in 2014, the museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and includes centerpiece exhibits and artifacts from the Bristol sessions along with special exhibits, a performance theater, radio station, learning center, and the Museum Store.
The Bristol Sessions took place in the summer of 1927. Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company came to Bristol and conducted recording sessions using the new Western Electric electronic microphone. Nineteen performers (and groups), including Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, recorded 76 songs. Jimmie Rodgers was the first person inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and is considered the father of country music. These sessions continue to have a large influence on music today and resulted in Bristol TN/VA being named the “Birthplace of Country Music,” in 1998 by the U.S. Congress.
Discovering Hillbilly Music
Commercial recordings of country music began in 1922 but “hillbilly” artists (as they called them then) had to travel to New York City to record. Many artists were not true “hillbilly” artists but crossed over from other genres to record country songs. Producer Ralph Peer believed so much in the potential of this style of music that he took a salary of $1 per year but would own the publishing rights to all the recordings he made. He chose Bristol because it was the largest urban area in the Appalachians at the time and was known for a wealth of musicians who had passed this style of music down through generations.
The original ad placed in the Bristol News-Bulletin read: "The Victor Co. will have a recording machine in Bristol for 10 days beginning Monday to record records — inquire at our store." At first there was little interest, but days later a reporter wrote about Ernest Stoneman and his family, locals from Bristol, who had recorded with Victor and received $3600 last year as his share of the proceeds. This was three and a half times the average national wage in 1927. The next morning dozens of area musicians showed up.
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion
Held annually the third weekend in September is the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival. Located in historic downtown Bristol TN/VA, the three-day music seeks to showcase Appalachia’s past, present, and future by getting to the roots of the traditional Appalachian sound and illustrating the influence it has on music today.
Also be sure to check out Radio Bristol, a nonprofit community radio station that celebrates the roots of American music through a variety of original programming. Located right in the museum, the radio exhibit is not only interactive, but is an actual radio station.
The Radio Bristol app offers free streaming content, which will include three channels – WBCM LP 100.1 FM, Radio Bristol Americana, and Radio Bristol Classic.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is located at 101 Country Music Way, Bristol, VA.