Come to Make Records

Knoxville’s Contributions to American Popular Music

April 16, 2016 to October 30, 2016
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

In 1929 and again in 1930, Brunswick Records’ Vocalion label set up a temporary recording studio at the St. James Hotel in downtown Knoxville and invited locals to come make records. These old-time, jazz, blues, and gospel recordings added Knoxville’s voice to American popular music and inspired the next generation of country music stars. In an exciting new exhibition, the East Tennessee Historical Society and the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound present a first-time look at the impact of these recordings and the region’s contributions to American popular music. The exhibition features an array of artifacts, videos, sound recordings, and photographs showcasing East Tennessee’s diverse musical heritage.

Come to Make Records explores Knoxville’s growth in the early 20th century, the importance of fiddling contests in generating fans and driving record sales, the role of Sterchi Bros. in exposing local talent to a national audience, and examines why Knoxville was selected for the recordings. The exhibit offers a closer look at the St. James Hotel, the site of the Knoxville Sessions, an overview of the local talent that arose from the sessions, and a look at the next generation of artists, such as Chet Atkins and Roy Acuff.

The exhibit includes a display demonstrating 130 years of recorded sound from the wax cylinder to the iPod, a re-creation of the St. James Hotel room where the Knoxville Sessions took place, Roy Acuff’s fiddle, Cal Davenport’s banjo, a Bairdola, and an assortment of other instruments. Other artifacts featured are original records from the Knoxville Sessions, a painting by Howard Armstrong, and Carl and Pearl Butler’s performance suits, designed by Nathan Turk. Special video presentations include a film produced by East Tennessee PBS on the Knoxville Sessions, a look at how 78 rpm discs are made, rare footage of Knoxville Sessions artists, and recordings of Roy Acuff, Uncle Dave Macon, and Carl and Pearl Butler.

The exhibition by the East Tennessee Historical Society is made possible through a collaboration with the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound and the Knox County Public Library and is sponsored by Clayton Homes with support by East Tennessee PBS. The exhibit is also a supporting component of the Knoxville Stomp Festival of Lost Music to be held May 5-8 in celebration of the Bear Family Records release of The Knoxville Sessions, 1929-1930:  Knox County Stomp. Previous acclaimed releases from the Bear Family include the Grammy-nominated The Bristol Sessions and The Johnson City Sessions. The exhibit is on view at the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville through October 30, 2016.

The Museum of East Tennessee History is open 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday; 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Saturday; and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Sunday. Museum admission is $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for seniors, and FREE for children under 16.  Each Sunday admission is FREE to all and ETHS members always receive FREE admission.

Come to Make Records: The Knoxville Sessions, 1929-1930


Based on the research contained in The Knoxville Sessions, 1929-1930: Knox County Stomp by Dr. Ted Olson and Tony Russell, published by Bear Family Records

Guest curators: Bradley Reeves and Eric Dawson, Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, Knox County Public Library

Volunteers: Denise Alfrey, Ryan Caylor, Dan MacDonald, Katherine McPhaul, B. J. Wiseman

Special thanks: Lisa Horstman


Related Resources:

To learn more about the Bristol Sessions, visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Presenting Sponsor