AAA Travel Tips & Articles / This is American Music

This is American Music

flickr/Dig Downtown Detroit
By AAA Travel Editor Patricia Miller
July 23, 2018
Find out more about the history of your favorite style of American music while exploring the country or attending an amazing music festival. Here’s a sampling of what you can find, so put on some traveling music and hit the road!
Interior photo of the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City Missouri
Courtesy of American Jazz Museum
American Jazz Museum
Kansas City, Missouri
(816) 474-8463
“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” You’ll be humming that tune at this museum celebrating the days when swing was definitely the thing. As you enter, glowing neon lights advertising 1940s’ juke joints greet you. Artifacts like Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, Ella Fitzgerald’s dress and Charlie Parker’s saxophone are next in line. Kids who’ve never been exposed to this genre can learn about it during jazz storytelling sessions, while jazzophiles enjoy toe-tapping selections from the music library. Stay late for a show in The Blue Room, a copycat of a 1930s nightclub that’s part of the museum.
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Exterior photo of Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis Tennessee
flickr/Curtis Simmons
Elvis Presley's Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
(901) 332-3322
Graceland is on the bucket list of every Elvis devotee, and 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. The king of rock ‘n’ roll’s former residence doesn’t disappoint; it’s heavy on 1970s décor like shag carpets, chandeliers, mirrored walls, stained-glass peacocks, brass accents and white furniture everywhere you look. Don’t miss the Jungle Room, with carved-wood chairs, monkey statues, a waterfall and tropical foliage. Other buildings house glitzy jumpsuits, countless gold and platinum records and oodles of memorabilia.
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Exterior photo of MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle Washington
flickr/Josh Grenier
MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture)
Seattle, Washington
(206) 770-2700
Unlike many museums, there are lots of things to do here, not just see: You can record a song, jam with other wannabe rock stars in a soundproof room and take a computer-led guitar lesson at this AAA GEM attraction. “IF VI WAS IX,” a 2-story-high sculpture composed of 500+ instruments, plays mind-blowing music that you listen to through earphones. Jimi Hendrix devotees will be in seventh heaven, as the Seattle-born artist has his own gallery jam-packed with memorabilia. Finally, forget stage fright and indulge your inner rock god as you perform on stage while the audience shouts for more.
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Exterior photo of Motown Historical Museum in Detroit Michigan
flickr/Dig Downtown Detroit
Motown Historical Museum
Detroit, Michigan
(313) 875-2264
Step inside this shrine to the Motown Sound and the early days of artists like The Supremes and The Jackson Five. Peek into the second-floor flat where founder/mogul Berry Gordy lived, above the first-floor recording studio of Hitsville USA, where songs like “Baby Love” and “Dancing in the Street” were recorded in the early 1960s; you’ll see a lot of original recording equipment and instruments like Stevie Wonder’s piano. Ogle tons of memorabilia and elaborate costumes (Michael Jackson’s glove! Sparkly girl-group gowns!) and sing an a cappella rendition of “My Girl” in the studio at this AAA GEM attraction.
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Exterior photo of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland Ohio
Courtesy of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cleveland, Ohio
(216) 781-7625
Cleveland rocks, in part because it’s home to this AAA GEM attraction’s comprehensive collection. You’ll find an immense range of artifacts from a myriad of artists representing many subgenres, including alternative, soul, hip-hop, rhythm and blues, gospel and punk. The huge collection of prized memorabilia includes 70 Beatles’ pieces such as John Lennon’s black coat from “Help!,” Jimi Hendrix’s handwritten lyrics to “Purple Haze,” Johnny Cash’s acoustic guitar, Notorious B.I.G.’s leather jersey and Joey Ramone’s leather jacket. The museum also pays tribute to popular artists like Rihanna and Bruno Mars.
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Concert at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin Texas
Courtesy of South by Southwest (SXSW)
South by Southwest (SXSW)
Austin, Texas
(512) 467-7979
This music festival started in 1987 with 700 attendees and has grown exponentially since; in 2017, 2,085 bands from 63 countries played on 104 stages. That’s a lot of music! Of course, the crowds are humongous, but that doesn’t stop thousands from attending this AAA GEM event every year in March. If you go, your biggest problem will be deciding who to see, but we suggest creating a list that includes your favorite artists, add some you’ve heard about but never heard and, if there’s room, throw in a few who have really cool names.
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Exterior photo of Sun Studio in Memphis Tennessee
Sun Studio
Memphis, Tennessee
(901) 521-0664
Housed in a nondescript brick building, Sun Studio may not look very impressive (except for the gigantic guitar outside that hints at its official role) but it figures prominently in rock history. In 1953 young Elvis Presley cut his first single at this little recording studio that still looks exactly the same, and Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins recorded on-site in the 1950s. Some great blues and country artists also laid down tracks here early in their careers, including B.B. King, Charlie Rich and Conway Twitty.
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