NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nashville has long been known as the Music City. From country and gospel to rock and rap music, artists and songwriters across the country have made their homes in Nashville, further cementing Nashville’s ties to the music industry.
But where did the nickname come from?
According to Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp (NCVC), there is a longstanding legend that the name comes from royalty, though the veracity of the claim is dubious.
The story goes that the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an a cappella ensemble formed at Fisk University in the 1870s, earned the nod from Queen Victoria after a European tour stop in England. After their performance, the Queen was said to be moved by the performance, remarking that the group must have come from the “city of music.”
But more concrete evidence of Nashville’s status as Music City comes from the long history of musical groups in town, Spyridon said.
“We have an enormous history of music, from Night Train to Nashville in the ‘50s, the Opry starting in the ‘20s, and just how it’s evolved today,” he said.
More solid evidence came from the 1950s, when a radio DJ dubbed Nashville “Music City USA” on the air, he said.
“That kind of took off as a nickname, then Nashville itself kind of struggled with, ‘Do we want to be that? Is it too country? Is it too hillbilly?’ So, we had a split personality for a while,” he said.
The name was truly imprinted, however, in the early 2000s, when the NCVC leaned into the nickname as a brand for the whole of Nashville.
“We went through an in-depth strategic planning process,” he said. “We hit on we can and should on music—there was a nickname out there, but it wasn’t a brand.”
The NCVC opted to drop the “USA” from the radio DJ’s moniker in order to position Nashville as “the only Music City in the world,” he said, choosing to “own it.”
Additionally, Spyridon said, going with just “Music City” also allowed the plan to open itself up to more genres than just country music, as well as to focus more on music as a whole—not just performing, but also songwriting and scoring.
That campaign kicked off in 2004, and has continued ever since.
“It was a nickname, and we turned it into our brand,” he said.
While Nashville is known as the home of country music, artists from all types of music have opted to call the city home. Jack White of The White Stripes fame has his own studio, Third Man Records, located near the Gulch neighborhood. The Fisk Jubilee Singers call North Nashville home. Blues musician Keb’ Mo’ moved to Music City. Grammy Award-winning rockers Cage the Elephant, originally from Bowling Green, Kentucky, now call Nashville home. Rapper Jelly Roll, who has recently seen an explosion in fame, hails from Antioch. The Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands just won a Grammy award for a gospel record. Reggae phenom Gramps Morgan has also moved to Nashville within the last few years.
And, of course, there are the scores of country artists who have established themselves in Nashville.
“I give the brand a lot of credit, and I give the community even more for embracing that,” Spyridon said. “No other city can claim it like we can. We’ve built it. We’ve protected it. We’ve nurtured it, but without question, it’s the musicians, the songwriters and the artists that make it true.”