Tennessee Music

GRADES: 9 (United States History) 
DURATION: 2 sessions of 45 minutes

  • Internet access (or printouts from the Tn4Me website and the Encyclopedia of Tennessee History and Culture)


(adapted from information online here):  
After World War II, Tennessee exploded as a music capital. Country music, rock and roll, blues, gospel, and bluegrass were all recorded and produced in Tennessee.  Elvis Presley was the king.  

New technologies, like audio tape and affordable electric musical instruments, made it easier for more people to create music. 

Radio and television helped to promote artists and their songs to Americans who now had more money to buy records, sheet music and tapes.

Nashville and
Country Music:
Nashville quickly became the center for country music, developing around George Hay’s Grand Ole Opry.  

Songwriters, publishers and record companies created an industry with artists like Eddie Arnold, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline.   Nashville became known as "Music City."

Memphis and the Blues:
In Memphis, new blues-based styles developed into rock and roll and soul. Bluesmen like B. B. King adapted traditional acoustic blues to the electric guitar.  

Rock & Roll and Sun Records:
Sam Phillips started Sun Records, a small recording company that discovered some of the 1950s/1960s biggest music stars.   They produced such performers as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. 

Soul Music and Stax Records:
Stax Records turned out Sam & Dave, Marvin Gaye, and a host of other successful talent.

Guiding Questions: 

  • What role did Tennessee play in the development of American music in the fifties, sixties, and seventies?

Objectives:  Students will 

  1. Compare and contrast what, how, and why Indians and long hunters hunted.
  2. Associate examples of Tennessee music with particular music categories, including rock and roll, blues, and country.
  3. Describe major events and important historic figures associated with the music industry in Tennessee.


  • Have students write a brief summary of Tennessee’s important contributions to American music.


Session 1: Research
  1. Divide the class into groups.
  2. Assign a different topic to each group from among the following:
  1. Explain that students are to read the information and plan a short presentation describing Tennessee contributions to and influences on American music.
  2. Have students use the images on those pages in their presentations.
Note: To print out copies of images in slideshows, follow these steps:
1.      Go to the section of the website where the image occurs.
2.      When the slide shows up, click on the upper right corner to stop the slide show.
3.      Right click on the image and select print.
4.      To print in grayscale, select grayscale under the color tab under preferences.
Session 2: Oral Reports
  1. Have teams present their findings about important contributions of Tennessee to American music using images from the website.
  2. As time permits, play some of the audioclips on the TN 4 Me website.

Extensions:Have students

    • Have students plan a “tribute” in which Tennessee contributions to American music can be showcased via posters, playing of music selections, etc.




    Tennessee United States History Standards (http://state.tn.us/education/ci/ss/9_12_us_hist.shtml):
    9.12 Identify the changes in the music industry brought about by Tennessee's influence (i.e., Grand Ole Opry, WSM, Nashville music publishing, Memphis Sun Studio& Stax Records, Elvis Presley).
    Tennessee Social Studies Process Skills
    Historical Awareness:
    • Utilize primary and secondary source material such as biographies and autobiographies; novels; speeches and letters; and poetry, songs, and artwork


National History Standards (http://nchs.ucla.edu/standards/era9-5-12.html): 
5-12 Thinking Standards: STANDARD 2: Historical Comprehension
The student comprehends a variety of historical sources:  Therefore, the student is able to
I.                   Draw upon the visual, literary, and musical sources including: (a) photographs, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings; (b) novels, poetry, and plays; and, (c) folk, popular and classical music, to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.