Birthplace of Country Music Museum: The Bristol Sessions and beyond

Tri-Cities Original

From the outside, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol looks like a typical museum where priceless artifacts live out of reach in glass cases.

But step inside and you’ll see there’s so much more.

“It really talks about country music…how it started and how it is today,” said Executive Director Leah Ross.

This place tells a story set to music. In a way, this place sings a song.

“The story of this museum is the story of the music of this region,” Ross said. “There’s only one city that can claim to be the birthplace of country music.”

The museum is dedicated to remembering what happened in the summer of 1927 when a businessman named Ralph Peer paid mountain musicians to come to Bristol and let him record them.

“When people come here they have that interactive experience to see how important those recordings are and have influenced American music so much.”

“He told artists that if they came and performed he would pay them for their songs,” Ross said. “And that’s still how artists get paid today on those royalties.”

The recordings became known as the Bristol Sessions, country music’s big bang.

“The significance of that is was the first commercial recordings of the Carter family and Jimmy Rodgers,” said Ross. “The Carter family being the first family of country music and Jimmy Rodgers being the father of country music.”

But the Birthplace of Country Music museum doesn’t stop with the birthplace story.

“When people come here they have that interactive experience to see how important those recordings are and have influenced American music so much,” Ross said.

According to the museum’s head curator, Dr. René Rodgers, the artifacts like musical instruments autographed by legends like Dr. Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs hold one-of-a-kind value.

But Rodgers says the most valuable thing there isn’t in a glass case. It’s an experience. The chance to feel something and walk away changed for the better.

“We found so many tell us it was an emotional experience because music evokes emotion, but it’s about a story… a small story that became a big story and people connect with that,” Rogers said.

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Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, Josh Smith has been a member of the WJHL team since 1999. His family roots go deep in the region, and he’s traveled through almost every part of it covering news on local TV since 1995. When he’s not on the job, he’s with his wife, two sons, and daughter.   “They’re the best part of me,” he said.   You may run into them biking on the Tweetsie Trail, hiking around Bays Mountain Lake, or browsing the shelves at the local public libraries.

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