Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Three Nicknames, (re)visited

I've mentioned, back in my earliest postings, how Nashville has two other nicknames beside "Music City". Actually, thanks to my good buddy Bill Cody of WSM-AM 650 I now know of a fourth. It's "Rock City" and apparently derives from the prominence of limestone in this area.

Setting aside this fourth, last Sunday afternoon you might say that I experienced the three nicknames all in one ride on the bus! After worship I had gone as usual to the Kroger in Green Hills for Sunday dinner -- they have a terrific salad bar, and a good dining area inside the store. When I finished eating, I got on the bus to go downtown. And in effect I rode thru the three nicknames (or slogans).

First came "The Athens of the South". I had told in the earlier posting of how Nashville came to have this title or nickname, and how it continues to support it by such means as abundance of classical Greek architecture in many public buildings. I probably omitted that the classical architecture is found even in several of the city's churches (Gothic and Romanesque are comparatively rarer). On 21st Ave. South at Acklen Ave. stands Belmont United Methodist Church, in classical Greek splendor. I had been past this church numerous times, but today I pay conscious attention to those Ionic-order columns along its front and remember all the other churches that have these or Doric-order columns upholding a classical Greek gable. And just a few blocks further along 21st Ave. the bus passes thru Vanderbilt University. Vandy is of course just one -- albeit the most academically prestigious and famous -- of the many institutions of higher ed in this town. Indeed, I still remember the first time I looked at an inset map of Nashville in a Rand McNally atlas and being impressed with all the mortarboard symbols locating the various higher ed campuses! Thus yet another reason for the "Athens" nickname!

Just past 21st and Grand Ave. the bus bears to the right and away from the Vandy campus to head downtown. But at Grand I look to the right and see headquarters buildings of the United Methodist Church, including an older one of classical architecture that houses The Upper Room (the magazine offices AND the chapel). Several blocks further along the bus route we pass the buildings of the Baptist Sunday School Board, headquarters for the Southern Baptist Convention. All these denominational buildings are visual reminders of another nickname (or slogan), that of "The Buckle of the Bible Belt".

And even tho' the bus I'm on doesn't go along or across Music Row nor past Ryman Auditorium I end up getting a visual reminder of this third nickname of "Music City". You see, dear reader, when the bus turns to go along the block in which sits Music City Central, the MTA bus terminal, we pass a young man walking along slowly, holding and playing his guitar, with the case slung along his back. Such is a common sight in this city, where so many young (and some not so young) people come to try and make it big in music.

Let me remind you that the music isn't solely country music either. Indeed, when the historical truth is told, the nickname goes back before the Grand Ole Opry started broadcasting or Roy Acuff and Fred Rose founded the first music publishing company in town (to publish what was then called "hillbilly music"). I've found out that when the Fisk Jubilee Singers made their first European tour they sang so well for Queen Victoria that Her Majesty commented that, "you must be from the Music City!" And Nashville had orchestral groups long before the Opry began putting country music out on the airwaves.

Indeed, as rural folk began to stream into Nashville to SEE this radio show they loved so, and as the Opry spawned the country aspect of the music production efforts, native Nashvillians were less than welcoming. After all they wanted their city to live up to the educational and cultural implications of being "Athens of the South". Those "country bumpkins" with their hillbilly music detracted from this. Supposedly.

However, along came Sarah Ophelia Colley, an alumna of Ward Belmont, a most prestigious "finishing school" for young ladies of high society; she became famous as country comedienne and Opry cast member Minnie Pearl. After she married Henry Cannon, descendant of a Tennessee governor, they moved in next door to the Governor's Mansion. Thanks to her (and perhaps others?) a bridge began to be built between the "hillbillies" at the Ryman and the Row and the cultured high-society people out at Belle Meade Country Club.

And so my impression is that now most Nashvillians live comfortably with all three of the nicknames (or slogans) for their hometown. I know I've come to like 'em all equally well! (Granted, I'm not a native -- but I've lived in or near Nashville several years of my adult life.)

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