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Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Musical Crossroads

As the National Museum of African American History and Culture prepares for the opening of the museum’s new building, curators are developing the permanent exhibitions to be housed in the building. One of the museum’s largest exhibitions, Musical Crossroads, will explore the history and cultural impact of African American music. Telling the story of African American music from the arrival of the first Africans to the present day, Musical Crossroads will explore the role music has played in African American life, its impact as a sustainer of African American cultural traditions, its use for social change, and its profound impact and influence within the United States and abroad.

Museum curators are currently seeking out a broad array of objects—musical instruments, recording equipment, handwritten scores, costumes, personal records, stage sets and props, and memorabilia—to use in the exhibition and include in its permanent collection. Items already in the museum’s collection include Louis Jordan’s manuscript for his hit, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (1944), a Harmonics Trek II electric organ and speaker set that James Brown used on tour, a costume Jermaine Jackson wore as a member of the Jackson Five, Dinah Washington’s traveling case, Ray Charles’s receipt for his first recording session, and a collection of photographs of the Memphis music scene by Ernest Withers. These are just a sample of the types of objects that the museum hopes to continue to collect.

The Rhythm and Blues program is produced in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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