25 Things You Should Know About Nashville
By Jeff Wells
It may be known as the Music City, but Nashville can do a lot more than just carry a tune. It’s a leading healthcare provider, a foodie destination, and a must-see for history buffs. It’s also the only place in the world where you’ll find a full-size replica of The Parthenon—and in a city park, no less. Here are a few things you might not know about the Tennessee capital.
1. It’s named after Francis Nash, who was one of the few Patriot generals killed during the American Revolution. Among the early pioneers who settled Fort Nashborough, as it was first known, was a young Rachel Donelson, the future wife of President Andrew Jackson.
2. General William Driver retired to Nashville in 1837 and every morning would run up an enormous American flag he called “Old Glory” outside his home. After rumblings about secession began to spread, he hid the flag by sewing it into a coverlet. When Nashville fell to Union troops in 1862, Driver marched out and cut open his coverlet in front of General William “Bull” Nelson. The regiment ran up Driver’s flag at the capitol building and proclaimed their new motto “Old Glory.”
3. Historians credit The Battle of Nashville, fought in December 1864, as one of the greatest tactical victories for the Union Army during the Civil War. Fifty thousand Union defenders smashed one of the Confederacy’s largest armies at the time, the Army of Tennessee, and sent them retreating south to Mississippi.
4. Downtown Presbyterian Church, built in 1851, is one of the few examples of Egyptian Revival architecture in America.
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Nashville’s musical reputation began with the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, an all-black a capella group that toured the nation during the 1870s to raise money for the university. Their 1909 recording of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” was among the first inducteesto the National Recording Registry, in 2002.
6. In 1892, salesman Joel Owsley Cheek convinced the food buyer for Nashville’s prestigious Maxwell House hotel to offer patrons his unique coffee blend, which he’d perfected by roasting over his mother’s stove. The coffee was such a hit that the hotel’s manager let Cheek sell it under the Maxwell House name. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt paid a visit and, after drinking a cup, supposedly proclaimed it “Good to the last drop.”
7. In 1912, the Standard Candy Company came out with the Goo Goo Cluster, a candy bar filled with peanuts, marshmallow nougat and caramel. It was the first candy bar to combine more than two ingredients, and is still a favorite in Nashville and throughout the South.
8. The Grand Ole Opry, the country’s longest-running radio show, began in 1925 as the WSM Barn Dance. Appearing on the WSM radio station (the call letters stood for sponsor National Life & Accident Company’s slogan, “We Shield Millions!”), the featured performer was a fiddle player named Uncle Jimmy Thompson. Two years later, the show’s announcer, George Hay, came on the air following a classical music program and famously said, “For the last hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera and the classics. We now present our own Grand Ole Opry.”
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During Prohibition, print shops along Printer's Alley ran a collection of bars that became the city’s not-so-secret secret bar scene. After Prohibition was repealed, many of the bars stayed open, and several are still in business today.
10. Its well-known nickname was first uttered in 1950, when WSM announcer David Cobb proclaimed Nashville “Music City, USA.”
11. Nashville’s WSM radio station received the first FM radio license in 1941. Most listeners weren’t aware of the change beforehand, but they immediately took note of the clearer signal.
12. RCA Studio B, located on Nashville’s Music Row, is lit with red, blue, and green lights year round to commemorate an Elvis Presley Christmas album. While recording the album in July, The King had his crew put up the lights, along with a Christmas tree, to help get him in the holiday spirit. He also turned up the air conditioning full blast.
13. From February through May 1960, African-American college students staged a series of sit-ins at stores and restaurants throughout downtown. While these weren’t the first such displays of nonviolent protest, they were some of the most successful, leading to Nashville becoming the first Southern city to desegregate public establishments.
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Oprah Winfrey spent part of her childhood in Nashville, where her father Vernon lived. At age 19, she took a job with WTFV-TV and became the city’s first female African-American news anchor.
15. Nashville’s capitol building, built in 1859, is one of America’s oldest capitol buildings still in operation. Its architect, William Strickland, modeled it after the monument of Lysicrates in Greece, and he considered it the greatest achievement of his career. When he died suddenly during construction in 1854, he was entombed in the building’s north façade.
16. In 1927, after reading a magazine article about guide dogs in Switzerland, a blind Vanderbilt student named Morris Frank traveled to Europe to train with a German Shepherd named Buddy. Morris returned less than a year later and founded the first seeing-eye dog training school in the U.S.
17. Nashville has the world’s only full-scale replica of The Parthenon. It’s located in Centennial Park and houses the city’s art museum. There’s also a 42-foot-tall statue of Athena inside.
In the late ‘50s, a group of country music producers, including the legendary Chet Atkins, began eliminating fiddles, steel guitars and other honky-tonk elements from recordings in order to update country music for modern audiences. Their efforts paved the way for contemporary country ballads, and became known as the “Nashville sound.”
19. Unsurprisingly, Nashville has the highest concentration of music industry employees of any city in the world, with nearly 60,000 total.
20. The music industry’s got nothing on the healthcare industry, though. Vanderbilt University, as well as Hospital Corporation of America and more than 300 other healthcare establishments account for more than 200,000 local jobs.
21. Nashville has the largest Kurdish community in North America, with more than 13,000 Kurds living and working in the city. Drawn by the low cost of living and available jobs, many arrived in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s after fleeing Saddam Hussein’s cultural genocide in Iraq.
22. There are more than 150 live music venues in Nashville. Those that feature live music four or more nights a week get to display a special sign shaped like a guitar pick.
Home to such down-home dishes as hot chicken, hot fish, and meat and three, Nashville is also a destination for refined palates. Travel + Leisure named it number 13 in its list of snobbiest American cities.
24. The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s estate, features a driveway shaped like a guitar. The design was meant to help carriages maneuver easily through the grounds, though Nashville residents like to think it was a good omen for the city’s future.
25. The Blue Room, a live venue located inside rocker Jack White’s Third Man Records, is the only venue in the world that records music directly to vinyl record.