Nashville was long hailed as the “country capital of the world” until its run down crime ridden Eastside began attracting a mostly young, hip, highly tattooed crowd of philosophizing cool kids with their own brand of music. They wanted nothing to do with the downtown “hollering and swallering” tourist crowds in the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway, and even less to do with whoever the newest sensation was on the front stage at “Tootsies Orchid Lounge.”
East Nashville, though still a bit dangerous in some neighborhoods, came into its own, and the music this new breed brought to Nashville, stayed. Downtown Nashville, though still a bit dangerous in some areas, remains a tourist trap, and traditional country music, previously written and/or performed by mostly dead people, is still on the menu. Thus, Nashville now boasts the all-encompassing title of, “Music City.”
But long before Nashville city officials greedy for tourist dollars voted to restore the downtown Broadway area well beyond its formal glory, and going to East Nashville still meant putting your life on the line, something else existed. A vital part of Nashville’s rich music heritage from its poorer times has been covered with the dust of progress. They called it, “Jefferson Street”.
Jefferson Street was lined with venues such as the “New Era Club” and “Club Baron” that hosted many acts from what was called the “Chitlin’ Circuit”. These acts included names like Etta James, Jimmy Hendrix, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles. As these otherwise “Negro” bars began hosting shows for the benefit of white people who were missing out on some good stuff by being banned, they pulled in anxious music fans from miles around. There was nary a racial skirmish to be had, and some huge names in music emerged.
The glory that was once “Jefferson Street” has given way to urban developers and investors so reminders of this era gone by are in short supply. It’s been said though if you listen closely to the passing breeze, you just might hear the songs of some icons who helped reshape the very soul of American music.