The History of Knoxville Country Music Saved or Lost?

I recently mentioned the wonderful “Cradle of Country Music (Walking) Tour,” and provided a link that, it turns out did no more than mention that there was such a thing and that it might be retrieved at the East Tennessee History Center or at the Knoxville Tourism Center. It offers a link to a map – which turns out to be a map of the United States. It has no concluding period. It certainly has no link to a printable version of the brochure. A helpful reader alerted me to the fact that the brochure was unavailable when last he tried to get one.

So I investigated. I found a mixture of good news and bad news. The best news: The brochure is available once again. I found my copy at the Knoxville Tourism Center at the corner of Gay and Summit Hill. That’s about where the good news stops.
It isn’t available online and when I talked to the director I was assured that was a very good idea, but it somehow seemed like a larger idea to him than it does to me, so I didn’t end the conversation feeling it might happen soon. I asked both there and at the Tennessee Historical Society who owns the copyright and thus would be able to give me permission to post it and no one seemed certain. It appears the Historical Society had the writing done and the Tourism people pay to have it printed. I was even told by one person that Jack Neely wrote it.

At a frustration point on that topic, I asked the condition of the tour and I was assured it was all intact. I set out to investigate and I found some truth to what they said. Some of the markers have been replaced with smaller, less helpful ones.

If you happen upon one of the older markers, they are fascinating and informative even if you don’t pursue the tour. Now, they simply refer you to a number in the brochure, which is not helpful if you don’t have a brochure. It seems to me startling an unsuspecting tourist with one stunning fact about Knoxville Music History is better than hoping they’ll walk to the end of Gay Street, get a brochure and be motivated enough to walk the whole tour.

Worse, the new markers are not at all prominent. I stood at the corner of Market and Clinch for ten minutes and never found the marker. Only on my return and after inquiring inside did I learn that it is now on the side of the building (pictured above).

Others were similarly placed, like the one on the front of Coolato Gelato, which, if it was the old style marker, would alert patrons of that establishment to the fact that on that site in the 1930’s and 1940’s WROL broadcast the Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour and thus this site witnessed the launching of the career of the venerable Roy Acuff. It’s enough to make you spit out your ice-cold confection.

The most obscured of the markers is in the ticket office window at the Tennessee Theatre. What good is that?

I made it to number nine on the list of nineteen. Number nine is entitled, “The Knoxville Music Monument to the Performers of East Tennessee.” It is six sided pyramid topped and bottomed by a circle. Two of the sides hold bronze lists of honorees. One side holds a bronze list of people who made donations to make it possible and the other sides are empty, presumably waiting for future generations of musicians to distinguish themselves. Sadly, the whole affair used to be capped with one of the coolest sculptures downtown: a treble clef. It was removed some years ago because it was deteriorated and even though a recent article called the newly enlarged area “Treble Clef Park,” there is apparently no move afoot to forge a new one to replace it or even to cover the embarrassing gash where it once stood.

So what needs to happen? We need to replace the missing signage with ones like the originals. We need to get this tour into printable form online. And we need our Treble Clef. Who can make these things happen? The Knoxville Americana Music Association? The Knoxville Songwriters Association? I’m not sure, but with the relatively small amount of money that would be required for the great benefit derived, someone should do it.

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