National Museum of African American Music marks a milestone on MLK Day | Opinion

H. Beecher Hicks

  • H. Beecher Hicks is the president and CEO of the National Museum of African American Music.

As a transplant to Nashville more than a decade ago, the winter months are always exciting for me. 

Not because of the unpredictable patterns of ice and snow, the Music City Bowl, or the increasing probability that the Titans and Predators will make a run into the playoffs, but because of the celebrations of civil rights and social justice that are so plentiful around town in January and February. 

My family and I look forward to the Bone McAllester breakfast bringing the community together each year to celebrate The Dreamer’s birthday, Nashville Symphony’s “Let Freedom Sing” community concert, and the Martin Luther King Day march and convocation hosted by the Interdenominational Minister’s Fellowship. 

February is filled with schools and corporations across the region hosting programs and panel discussions and welcoming guest speakers as they look for ways to engage with Black History Month. With these activities, it seems that the community comes alive and comes together to start the year off on a unified note.

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So many leaders paved the way for NMAAM

This year the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) will celebrate its first year of being open to the public on MLK Day.  More than 20 years in the making, and something that truly required the community to be unified to achieve, NMAAM adds yet another reason and another place for Nashvillians to come together to celebrate the richness of our diversity and the commonality of our experience and ambition.

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This gratifies me, but as we approach this red-letter day, I can’t help but think about those who paved the way for the museum, or who have gone to be with the ancestors, after working to allow all of us to enjoy a bit more freedom. 

For example, I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Yusef Harris, owner of Alkebu-Lan Images in North Nashville.

Chairman of the Board Kevin Lavender, Governor Bill Lee, and President & CEO H. Beecher Hicks III cut the ribbon at The National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. The public opening is on January 30, 2021.

For more than three decades he educated and uplifted all who entered his business with the richness of African and African American culture. Alkebu-Lan is a place I frequently visit to look for books or art, or just to take the pulse of what the sentiment is in the neighborhood.

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Thinking of Dr. Harris reminded me that the list of enlightened freedom fighters who have gone on is long. Freedom Riders Rip Patton and Kwame Lillard impacted Nashville and the nation with their wisdom, taking the long view. 

State Sen. Thelma Harper would encourage me with respect to the museum, saying, “We’re just going to get this done,” and Francis Guess was a trailblazer in state and federal government before becoming a local consigliere and leading the charge to complete NMAAM. 

I also think fondly of regional music heroes who were friends or serve as inspiration for our work at the museum. Jesse Boyce, Marion James, Jackie Shane, and Little Richard each propel us forward.

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Future generations are taking the mantle and leading

Of course, the fight for justice, equality and the beloved community is not over – the march continues.  And Nashville has leaders who continue to hold up the banner. 

Among others, Judge Richard Dinkins, Sharon Hurt, Charlane Oliver and Tequila Johnson have each taken the baton from those who came before them, using their gifts to make an impact today.

The National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tenn., held a socially distant ribbon cutting ceremony with elected leaders, Museum board members, and community leaders on the Monday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. The public opening is on January 30, 2021.

In music we know that icons like Billy Cox and Lorenzo Washington not only have remarkable stories and wisdom to share, but that they are calling a generation of artist advocates to follow them.

The winter months in Nashville are exciting for me. I am contemplative as I consider the work and service of those who have gone higher, and I am grateful and determined to support those who continue the fight for justice and community. 

I like to think that NMAAM represents a victory for all of them in their fight for all of us to live together in harmony.

I hope that Dr. King doesn’t mind NMAAM sharing in his birthday celebration, and that he would agree that our work represents progress towards enabling us to “live together as brothers.” 

I am grateful for the employees, alumni, board members, and supporters who brought the dream of a museum to reality one year ago. 

Even more so, I am grateful for those who, like Dr. Harris, were, and are, dedicated to making our city and nation places where “with the groove our only guide, we shall all be moved” to live as One Nation Under a Groove.

H. Beecher Hicks is the president and CEO of the National Museum of African American Music.

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