American Soundtrack

Vanderbilt developed a collaborative partnership with the National Museum of African American Music

PhD Field Trip to National Museum of African American Music. Photo by Heidi Bates

On a wall inside the National Museum of African American Music in downtown Nashville is a quote by American musicologist and author Eileen Southern: “The enduring feature of Black music is neither protest nor self-expression; it is communication, and one cannot imagine a time when Black musicians will have nothing to say either to others or to God.”

Communication is at the heart of Vanderbilt’s and NMAAM’s partnership, which aims to enrich educational and research opportunities around the musical legacy of African American composers, performers and supporters and their impact on American culture and musical history. In 2019 the university pledged foundational support to expand the museum’s archival collection, contribute to innovative programming, support the completion of the facility and more. Opened in 2021, NMAAM not only offers exhibits specific to gospel music, blues, jazz, R&B and hip-hop, but also serves as a venue for guest lectures, panel discussions, classes and performances.

“Our partnership with NMAAM is more than sustaining the success of an important community museum,” said Nathan Green, vice chancellor for government and community relations. “It’s about working on community-centric initiatives together, making the museum a platform for meaningful discussions.”

To deepen this collaborative relationship and to inspire innovative research in the arts, Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, vice provost for arts and libraries, launched the Arts, Discovery and Innovation Fund in September 2022. The fund allows faculty, staff and students to collaborate with NMAAM on projects covering a wide range of topics, including musicology, theatrical performance, American history, and policies related to intellectual property.

Take a look inside the National Museum of African American Music.