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From Nothing To Something



This month, we are spotlighting our program, ‘From Nothing to Something’ (FN2S). 

FN2S welcomes guests to participate in sessions to explore and learn how African Americans transformed music history and turned common household items into musical instruments: from spoons to the harmonica, cigar box guitars to the banjo, rhythm and drums to the washtub bass. The program speaks to multiple generations with an audience ranging from K-12 students to seniors. There’s something for everyone to learn in the workshops. Students and groups from around the world visit the museum each week to experience the interactive history in person. Highlighted sessions from the program include: 


Spoons, often called “bones, clappers, or clackers,” are one of the oldest forms of making music. Dating back to the 1800’s, the easy-to-find objects were used as musical instruments during times when people had little money and resources to create music. Today, spoons are played all over the world at festivals and countries such as Ireland, Turkey, Canada revere the artform. Here at the museum, visitors take part in sessions with the legendary Mr. Spoonman Talley who carries on the beloved tradition of spoonmanship right here in Music City.  


Harmonicas, also known as “mouth organs,” developed in the 1800s. Tennessee’s own, DeFord Bailey, made the instrument legendary when he opened the WSM’s Grand Ole Opry and became the first African American star of the show. The instrument is revered all over the world with icons such as Stevie Wonder carrying the traditional instrument on in his signature production and sound. At the museum, guests are welcome to participate in sessions with DeFord Bailey’s grandson, Carlos DeFord Bailey and learn about the renowned instrument’s music history. 

Cigar Box Guitar

Cigar box guitars were created in the 19th century, using discarded cigar boxes, a broom handle, and wires. The homemade string instruments saw a rise in jug bands and blues during the Great Depression and were used to perform at social events by musicians. During Black Music Month’s Community Day, Little Johnny Kantreed performed with the cigar box guitar entertaining visitors in the Feature Gallery.  

Rhythm and Drums

Rhythm and drums is a tradition passed down from of the journey of Africans to America through the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Using the process of learning through imitation and improvisation, African Americans created styles of music from spirituals to jazz using methods such as call and response, hand clapping, and foot stomping. These rhythmic elements carry on in musical genres today, from gospel to the blues. For Black Music Month, TSU’s alum and professor, Thomas Spann performed percussion in the feature gallery to create a memorable, homegrown experience at the museum.  


Posted by Marlyncia Pierce at 10:27