A Guide to Music Museums in the U.S

Music is a way of life. Soothing to the soul and blissful to your ears, music is as an old human tradition as humankind itself. It is then, of course, only fitting that we cherish this gift and preserve its rich history along with the most revered pieces from times past. If you are enthusiastic about a specific genre of music, or just music in general, you will find a trip to a museum dedicated to music well worth your time. So, here is a list of the top music museums you can, and should, visit in the United States.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – Nashville, Tennessee

One of the largest museums in the world, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum showcases the love that Nashville holds for country music. Chartered in 1964 and reaching its modern-day location and look in 2001, this museum holds one of the world’s largest collections of music and is one of the very few museums dedicated to preserving the Bluegrass genre of music. The museum boasts 350,000 square feet of galleries, educational classrooms, special event spaces, and more.

The museum’s core exhibition is a fascinating blend of history, sound, tradition, and the stories that shaped country music through the years. Nashville’s oldest recording studio that is still around is featured at this museum as well and is popular for having hosted famous personalities like Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton. The museum also offers the highest honor a country music professional can receive; membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame, which comes with having your portrait hanging in the rotunda. The museum has nearly 200,000 sound recordings and worth a visit just for that.

Museum of Pop Culture – Seattle, Washington

The Museum of Pop Culture, until recently known as the EMP Museum, was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in the year 2000. The museum’s bizarre yet attractive curvy metal structure shows rather than tell the passion for rock ‘n’ roll held inside the building. The museum contains many fun activities and interactive exhibits for visitors, allowing them to experiment to their heart’s content.

The Museum of Pop Culture is also famous for hosting dozens of exhibits, and for having founded multiple public events held each year that attract a large number of visitors. One particular exhibit allows guests to perform on stage in front of a virtual audience and is a blast to experience.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Cleveland, Ohio

If you’re craving a museum dedicated solely to rock and roll, this is probably the best one you can go to. Housed under a beautiful glass pyramid, is a collection of the history of this beloved genre and all the people who helped it evolve. This museum has its own Hall of Fame and welcomes distinguished individuals every year. The induction ceremonies for the museum are viewed by millions and drive millions of dollars in revenue as people pour in from all over the country to participate.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame consists of seven floors of exhibits about the greatest names in Rock and Roll history as well as four theatres. Its iconic glass structure was finished in 1995 and has been a popular point of photography for years. The museum, in addition to several galleries, also features interactive kiosks for the visitors.

Grammy Museum – Los Angeles, California

A museum dedicated to the winners of the Grammy Award, the GRAMMY Museum was opened back in 2008 and it offers up to 300 different programs. You’ll notice the iconic miniature gramophone statue throughout the building, not to mention the details of how this award evolved and of the legendary artists who have been awarded this honor. On display, you’ll find costumes, instruments, and listening rooms where you can explore how pop music evolved. You can listen to the earliest phonographs, all the way to cassettes. Interactive displays allow you to play instruments and mix bots let you create your own remixes.

There are multiple exhibits, spread over 4 different floors. One of the highlights worth seeing would be the History of American Music and Songwriters Hall, where you’ll find a long touch-screen table that lets you pick you a genre and learn more about it among a sea of options – think stars in constellations.

National Music Museum — Vermillion, South Dakota

National Music Museum -Vermillion, South Dakota

If a collection of musical artifacts and the oldest surviving musical instruments is something that interests you, the National Music Museum nestled in the plains of South Dakota should exceed your expectations. The collection doesn’t just have a rich history behind it, but it is also very rare – something any music lover would appreciate.

You’ll find the green-hued French grand piano believed to be the earliest one ever made. There’s the oldest surviving cello, the Amati “King”, which dates back to 1500s, effectively making it the oldest specimen on Earth. Also on the display, is the world’s oldest known harpsichord from 1530. To truly appreciate the magnitude of their impact, think of how these creations shaped the music for western society as we know it.

Then there are less familiar specimens, including preserved stringed instruments, Zithers, flugelhorns, woodwinds, harps, and an equally impressive ‘Echo Horn’. Aside from these instruments, you’ll find tools, fittings, tuning hammers from almost every century.

Musical Instrument Museum – Phoenix, Arizona

With over 7,000 instruments from 200 different countries, the Musical Instrument Museum offers displays blended with technology that allows visitors to interact with the instruments. They can listen to the instruments play and can enjoy the performances as breathtaking as the instruments themselves. The first floor greets you with a diverse collection of musical instruments from all over the world. The second floor showcases the orchestra of an opera as well as instruments of a jazz and mariachi band.

As guests approach the displays, they can hear curated music streaming through the wireless headsets that are given to them throughout the museum.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music – Memphis, Tennessee

Located where the Memphis-based music label ‘Stax Records’ once operated out of, the eponymous Stax Museum of American Soul Museum opened to the public back in 2003. Stax Museum provides a peek into the origins of soul music and role the legendary Stax Record played in the soul movement. On display, is a collection of soul artifacts including, Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac, Jones’ organ, and Cropper’s guitar to name a few. The origins of soul — the music which gets you grooving, date back to 1906. This tradition is carried on by Memphians and you can listen to their performances at Stax Music Academy.

American Jazz Museum – Kansas City, Missouri

American Jazz Museum - Kansas City, Missouri

Nestled between the Historic 18th and Vine Jazz District, Kansas, the American Jazz Museum offers its guests the history and sounds of jazz with the help of interactive displays and films. Opened to the public in 1997, the American Jazz Museum celebrates jazz as one of the pioneering art forms through over 200 performances, events, and exhibitions. Interestingly enough, it’s the only museum on the planet that’s dedicated to preserving and advancing this indigenous art form.

You’ll find Charlie Parker’s saxophone on display and the Blue Room which doubles as a bar and houses interactive exhibits and live performances.

Museum of Making Music – Carlsbad, California

Museum of Making Music - Carlsbad, California

Located in California, the Museum of Making Music is a non-profit organization that first opened in the year 2000. It aims to explore the evolution of the musical instrument industry via vibrant interactive exhibits that attempt to educate and entertain. You’ll find the history of manufacturing and retailing of music products starting from the 1890s to the present day. You also get a chance to learn about the various innovations that have been introduced over the last century and how these innovations helped shape popular music as we know it.

Memphis Rock N’ Soul Museum

Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum

If you’re looking to explore the birthplace of rock and soul, the exhibitions that Memphis Roch ‘n’ Soul Museum are worth a visit. It offers its guests a chance to learn the story of how pioneers surmounted racial and economic adversities to bring us this unique genre of music.

Located inside FedExForum entertainment complex and flanked by Highway 61, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum was first opened to the public in the year 2,000 and it has since received over 1,000,000 guests from all over the world. You can listen to a curated collection of over 100 songs recorded between 1930 and 1970, and 300 minutes of educational content, not to mention experience their audio-visual programs, costumes, and north of 30 musical instruments.

Delta Blues Museum – Clarksdale, Mississippi

Delta Blues Museum - Clarksdale, Mississippi

Delta Blues Museum’s mission is to preserve and collect memorabilia related to blues. On display, it has collections of art, including a sculpture by Floyd Shaman. The highlight of this artifact collection is the restored shack where the legendary Muddy Waters once lived. Blues has its roots in African-American songs and spirituals and it is this story, that the Delta Blues Museum attempts to tell. The city of Clarksdale — where this museum is located is widely regarded as ‘the delta region where the blues began back in the 1870s’.

International Bluegrass Music Museum – Owensboro, Kentucky

International Bluegrass Music Museum - Owensboro, Kentucky

If you want to discover the rich history of bluegrass music, there’s probably not an environment more conducive to this process than the International Bluegrass Music Museum. The museum is located just 45 minutes away from the birthplace of Bluegrass — home of Bill Monroe. While you’re visiting the museum, you can also drop by the Monroe Homeplace which has been fully restored and is open to the public. A vibrant exhibit walks you through the sources like gospel, jazz, and blues which influenced and shaped bluegrass.

The pièce de résistance of the museum would arguably be the Hall of Fame which celebrates the pioneer artists and preserves their legacy. If you’re curious, you can also dig deeper through the archives or temporary galleries.

Final Thoughts

The history of how one genre gave birth to another, how gospel evolved into the country, and jazz into the soul, and how these genres came together to give rise to roll ‘n’ roll music, tells the story of a uniquely American institution — the American music. So whether you find history fascinating, or you’d like to see the evolution of music, or maybe you just want to appreciate the artists you revere, this rundown of music museums will offer something to get your toes tapping.