Frazier History Museum

Kentucky Music

Celebrating the Sounds of Kentucky
Co-curated by Michael L. Jones
2nd Floor, Frazier History Museum
September 13, 2019 – Fall 2020

While it’s often only credited for the development of bluegrass, the state of Kentucky has produced seminal figures in nearly every movement in American music: from ragtime to country, folk to blues, jazz to R&B, and classic rock to hip hop.

This exhibit explores the rich — and mostly untold — tale of Kentucky music.

About the Exhibit

On display are artists’ instruments, stage-worn garments, and music video props; folklorists’ photographs and sheet music, vintage punk zines and show fliers, record store and festival memorabilia, and more.

Highlights include Jim James’s cape and guitar, Loretta Lynn’s dress, ear x-tacy’s sign, and the only known manuscript of "Good Morning to All," the original version of “Happy Birthday to You,” the most recognized song in the English language.

There are several interactive sound stations where visitors can play instruments, use a mixer, or listen to music with headphones.

And finally, there are text panels that narrate the history of Kentucky music, sharing stories and trivia about the taste-making artists, innovations, and trends that have emerged from the Bluegrass State.

Artifacts & Installations

“Community and Memory”

  • A Bowie knife owned by the “Father of American Minstrelsy,” Thomas “Daddy” Rice (1808 – 1860)

  • Photographs collected by the mountain music folklorist Mary Wheeler (1892 – 1979)

  • Appalachian dulcimers played by folk revivalists Jean Ritchie (1922 – 2015) and John Jacob Niles (1892 – 1980)

  • Wall panel with text about Kentucky’s old-time string band traditions, dating from Cato Watts (Unknown – 1787), the enslaved fiddler who was the city of Louisville’s first African-American resident, to William “Fiddlin’ Bill” Livers (1911 – 1988)

“Sheet Music and Parlors”

  • Bound and unbound sheet music for works by the prolific Louisville songwriter William Shakespeare Hays (1837 – 1907), including the song and chorus of “Evangeline” (1865)

  • Scans of pages in a first edition copy of Song Stories for the Kindergarten (1893), a book of sheet music for children’s songs — including “Good Morning to All,” the original version of “Happy Birthday to You,” the most recognized song in the English language — with melodies composed and arranged by Louisville’s Mildred Jane Hill (1859 – 1916) and lyrics written and adapted by Mildred’s sister, Patty Smith Hill (1868 – 1946)

  • A notebook of manuscripts hand-written by Mildred, c. 1895 – 1900, containing sketches of various songs, including — as was discovered in 2015 — the only known manuscript of “Good Morning to All”

  • A parlor-themed area with an early 1900s Adler organ and a guitar owned by Gilded Age stage actress Mary Anderson (1859 – 1940)

“Stages, Speakeasies, and Theaters”

  • Bandstand interactives with logos of Bowman Field and Ford Motor Company

  • A jug band area featuring pre-Prohibition Era whiskey jugs, a washtub bass from The Juggernaut Jug Band (active 1965 – ), the oldest continually operating jug band in America, and replica thimble gloves; and footage of Whistler’s Jug Band (active 1915 – 1930s)

  • Booklets of info about ragtime composers Ben Harney (1872 – 1938) and Irving Jones (c. 1874 – 1932); bluegrass genre forefather Arnold Schultz (1886 – 1931), blues guitarist “Little Bill” Gaither (1910 – 1970), and Mrs. Allen’s Marching Band (active c. 1910s – c. 1940), the children’s band organized by Booker T. Washington Community Center founder Bessie T. Allen

  • A snare drum with a Louisville Patent and one of the oldest drum sets in America, loaned by Marvin Maxwell (1945 – ), the drummer and Mom’s Music co-founder who invented “Jammin’ Johns,” the music-themed toilet seats sold worldwide

  • A dress worn by country music superstar Loretta Lynn (1932 – ); a dress and fiddle from the square dance entertainer Lily May Ledford (1917 – 1985), a suit and mandolin from the “Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe (1911 – 1996), and a guitar and record from the cool jazz and bebop legend Jimmy Raney (1927 – 1995)

  • Wall panels with text about jug blower Earl McDonald (1885 – 1949) and Gospel group The Ballard Chefs Quartet (active 1929 – 1932)


  • A push-button sound station at which guests can activate music from one of several devices: an Edison cylinder phonograph, a 1950s Phonola 45 record player, a 1970s Akai 8-track stereo, a 1983 Toshiba radio cassette tape recorder, a CD player, or an iPod

  • Wall panels with text about innovators in the jazz, blues, and classical music genres, including gas pipe clarinetist Fess Williams (1894 – 1975), blues and vaudeville performer Edith Wilson (1896 – 1981), bandleader and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton (1908 – 2002), and The Louisville Orchestra (active 1937 – ), the first orchestra in the U.S. to own its own record label


  • A 1950s-themed area with a black-and-white checkered faux-diner floor, a Crosley jukebox loaded with digitized copies of reel-to-reel tapes, c. 1950 – 1970, from Louisville’s Sambo Studio, later renamed Allen-Martin, and promotional photos of the artists

  • A radio station interactive equipped a microphone, a pinboard, an Akai reel-to-reel tape player, a turntable, and a mixer with which guests can activate music from a 1950s radio

  • Wall panels with text about thumb-picking country guitarist Merle Travis (1917 – 1983), R&B singer-songwriters Harvey Fuqua (1929 – 2010) and Prince Philip Mitchell (1944 – ), and close-harmony pop group The Everly Brothers (active 1951 – 1973, 1983 – 2005) as well as the Louisville area radio stations WHAS-840 AM (1922 – ) and WLOU-1350 AM (1948 – )


  • A TV studio-themed area that pays tribute to T-Bar-V Ranch, a Western-themed children’s show that aired on WHAS-TV from 1950 to 1970, and a supergraphic of the show’s singing and guitar-playing cowboy host, Randy Atcher (1918 – 2002)

  • A guitar from Atcher, a banjo played by country musician Tom T. Hall (1936 – ), and the mandolin presented to the “newgrass” pioneer Sam Bush (1952 – ) when he received the Americana Music Association (AMA)’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist in 2009

  • A living room interactive furnished with a couch and an antique TV set that screens footage of televised performances from the 1970s, including a Soul Train episode segment featuring the Louisville funk artist New Birth (active 1963 – 1982)

“Concerts and Festivals”

  • The backdrop from Tewligans (1981 – 1994), a bar established on Louisville’s Bardstown Road that became the city’s first venue for underground and alternative music

  • Memorabilia from Forecastle Festival (2002 – ), c. 2007 – 2009

  • A Gibson guitar played by Jim James (1978 – ), lead singer-songwriter for My Morning Jacket (active 1998 – ), and the royal blue cape James wore at live shows, c. 2012 – 2013

  • A dulcimer, hat, and vest owned by the late Steve Ferguson (1948 – 2009), a longtime guitarist for NRBQ

  • Select props from the garage punk bank White Reaper (active 2013 – ), including the reaper mask worn in the “Make Me Wanna Die” (2015) video, the guitar from the cover of The World’s Best American Band (2017), and the neon “WR” sign from the “Might Be Right” (2019) video

  • Wall panels with text about artists, festivals, and venues, including Midnight Star (active 1976 – 1990, 2000 – ) and R&B icons Static Major (1974 – 2008) and Bryson Tiller (1993 – ); KFC Festival of the Bluegrass (1974 – ), Worldfest (2003 – ), National Jug Band Jubilee (2005 – ), Louder Than Life (2014 – ), Bourbon & Beyond (2017 – ), and Hometown Rising (2019 – ); The Louisville Palace (1928 – ), Iroquois Amphitheater (1938 – ), The Toy Tiger (1973 – 1999), Southgate House (1981 – ), and Headliners Music Hall (1998 – )

“Record Stores”

  • Original issues of Burt the Cat, a fanzine that documented Louisville’s independent music scene from 1995 to 2002, and a telephone pole decorated with copies of vintage fliers for punk shows around Louisville

  • Select artifacts from the Louisville record store ear x-tacy (1985 – 2011), including a flier for its grand opening; a bumper sticker and a mail-order catalog, c. 1980s; the shop’s storefront LED sign, photos of in-store performances, replica CD bins, and a station with magnetized letters from cut-up “ear x-tacy” bumper stickers that guests can rearrange to spell their own messages

  • A Jimmy Buffett platinum record on which Tim Krekel (1950 – 2009), a singer-songwriter from Louisville, is credited for playing guitar

  • A collection of CDs by Kentucky artists from a wide range of genres

  • Wall panels with text about Southern hip hop group Nappy Roots (active 1995 – ) and several alt-folk, indie, punk, and post-rock artists from Louisville, including Will Oldham (1970 – ), Squirrel Bait (active 1983 – 1988), Slint (active 1986 – 1990), Rodan (active 1992 – 1995), Rachel’s (active 1991 – 2012), and GRLwood (active 2017 – )

Events & Programs

During the exhibit’s run, the Frazier will be hosting programs related to Kentucky music, starting with the following events.

  • “All in the Family: Examining Jug Band Music’s Relationship with American Popular Music.” A panel discussion about jug band music’s connections to other musical genres featuring American folk revival pioneer Jim Kweskin, fiddle historian John Harrod, and author and exhibit co-curator Michael L. Jones, with a special performance by the Juggernaut Jug Band. Friday, September 13, 6 – 9 pm. The Great Hall, Frazier History Museum.

  • “The Listening Room” & “Kentucky Is.” A double program. Thursday, November 21, 6 pm. Frazier History Museum.

    • “The Listening Room: A Panel Discussion.” A round-table discussion featuring music collector and Kentucky Music Heritage Foundation board member Doug Van Buren, ear x-tacy founder and operator John Timmons, Mom’s Music co-founder Marvin Maxwell, author and exhibit co-curator Michael L. Jones, and Mr. Wonderful Production Band lead singer Ron Lewis. Panelists will discuss and perform their favorite songs by Kentucky artists. 6 – 7 pm. The Brown-Forman Theatre, 1st Floor.

    • “Kentucky Is: A Sound Experience.” Improvisational music and sounds paired with local poets’ performances of original works inspired by artifacts in the exhibit. 7:30 – 8:30 pm. The Speakeasy, 2nd Floor.


The Frazier’s Museum Store is stocking Kentucky music-themed souvenirs during the exhibit’s run, including toy instruments, poetry kits, piano pencil sharpeners, disco ball cups, and ear x-tacy bumper stickers.

Additional Resources

Further Reading


Exhibition support generously provided by Hilliard Lyons - A Baird Company and sonaBLAST! Records / ABH Foundation.

About the Co-Curator

Michael L. Jones is an award-winning journalist who resides in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of Second-Hand Stories: 15 Portraits of Louisville (Weeping Buddha Press). He also sits on the board of directors of the National Jug Band Jubilee, a nationally renowned festival that celebrates a form of pre-World War II folk music that originated in Louisville. Jones has been a staff writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO), the Jeffersonville Evening News, and the Louisville Defender. He is married with three stepchildren.

About the Frazier History Museum

The Frazier is a world-class museum located in the West Main District of downtown Louisville. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Frazier documents and reinterprets stories from history using artifacts, exhibition, and live daily performances by a talented staff of teaching artists. Subjects of exhibitions include Bourbon whiskey, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the museum’s permanent collection, featuring Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Stick,” Geronimo’s portrait, and Mary Todd Lincoln’s arrest warrant.

In 2010, the Frazier acquired via long-term loan the nation’s oldest surviving Civil War memorial, the Bloedner Monument. The museum houses one of the largest collections of toy soldiers and historic miniatures on permanent public display in the world, The Stewart Collection. With the opening of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center and The Spirit of Kentucky® exhibition in 2018, the Frazier became the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®.

For more information, please call 502.753.5663 or visit

Press contact

Andy Treinen
Vice President

Frazier History Museum
829 W Main St
Louisville, KY 40202