My Homeland Tennessee: A Research Guide to Songs about Tennessee

Tennessee Places

Chattanooga Choo Choo (000054-TENN)

Tennessee's cities and towns have been subjects in popular songs for many years. During the Twentieth Century (especially post-World War I), urban centers might have received more songwriting attention than the natural or imagined attributes of Tennessee common to an earlier period. While cities such as Knoxville, Johnson City, or tiny Nutbush get a mention now and again, the vast majority of city-related songs are connected with either Nashville, Memphis, or Chattanooga.

Nashville Cats (000263-TENN)Nashville became a popular subject for songs for a variety of reasons: its standing as an important university town; it held the State Capitol; it is a major transportation hub; and its place as a center of the music business. In the early twentieth century, Nashville is portrayed as a wonderful place to visit or travel through. After Nashville rose to prominence as "Music City" in the post-World War II years, it is often characterized less hospitably as a place where the dreams of musicians are broken. Yet, on the other hand, there's the jaunty reference to "thirteen hundred and fifty-two" guitar-picking "cats" in Nashville, all of who "can play twice as better than I will."Night Train to Memphis (000274-TENN)

Chattanooga, like Nashville, is an important transportation center, due both to the railroad hub there and its location on the Tennessee River. The railroad connection, though, has been writ large because of the city's place in Glenn Miller's 1941 million-selling hit, "The Chattanooga Choo Choo."

Memphis is by far the best represented Tennessee city in American popular music. It has an abiding place in popular culture because of its connection to the blues and rock 'n' roll. The city has been home to many important musicians, including W.C. Handy, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Alex Chilton, Aretha Franklin, and Sam Phillips of Sun Records. Memphis continues to be a commonly referenced city up to this day. The Rock and Soul Museum in Memphis maintains a list of over one thousand songs that mention Memphis or prominent places within the city.



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