The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is offering fans access to two new, free-to-access online exhibits: “Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter” and “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City.” These multimedia exhibits are the first designed exclusively for the museum’s website.
Curated specifically for an online audience, “Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter” draws from the museum’s exhibit galleries and permanent collection to explore the artistry of Western-wear designers, often known as “rodeo tailors,” whose couture designs helped create the indelible “rhinestone cowboy” image for country music. The exhibit examines the emergence of this unique look in the 1940s and 1950s, largely from the tailor shops of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, who carved a successful niche for themselves by embracing America’s fascination with cowboy culture and Western imagery. Viewers will learn how the creative vision of the early designers, including ”Rodeo Ben” Lichtenstein, Nathan Turk and Nudie Cohn endures today, especially through Cohn’s former apprentices Manuel Cuevas and Jaime Castaneda, each of whom moved from Mexico to Los Angeles.
Today’s designers’ modern spins on classic Nudie suits and vintage stage costumes have been spotted on a wide range of recording artists including Charley Crockett, Jenny Lewis, Post Malone, Midland, Margo Price and Lil Nas X. The exhibit includes detailed color photos of stage wear, tools of the trade and historical photographs and video. Artifacts include a three-piece cowgirl costume designed by Nathan Turk for Rose Maddox, lead singer in her family band, the Maddox Brothers & Rose; Hank Thompson’s boots, featuring a fantastical scene commemorating his career-launching 1948 hit “Humpty Dumpty Heart,” created by Nudie Cohn’s master embroiderer Viola Grae; a Manuel jacket, with fleur-de-lys embroidery and rhinestones, designed for Roseanne Cash, and much more.
Originally presented in the museum’s galleries from 2015-2018, “Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City” has been adapted for an online audience. The exhibit explores Bob Dylan’s Nashville recordings in the 1960s and his impact on the local music industry; the role of Johnny Cash’s groundbreaking TV show in expanding the perception of Nashville as a music center welcoming to all; and the importance of the community of ace session musicians, known as the “Nashville Cats,” whose members included Kenny Buttrey, Lloyd Green, Charlie Daniels, Charlie McCoy, Jerry Reed and Hargus “Pig” Robbins and others. The Cats are featured on many significant recordings of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, including Neil Young’s Harvest, Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room, the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and multiple Dylan albums.
The exhibit features vintage clips from The Johnny Cash Show, and rare archival footage and images of artifacts including a mahogany 1949 Martin 00-17 that Dylan used in the early 1960s; Norbert Putnam’s Fender Precision bass, used on recordings by Linda Ronstadt (“Long Long Time”), Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie”), Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, and Elvis Presley; and Cash’s Eaves Costume Company suit, which he wore on his network TV series The Johnny Cash Show.
“As a national history museum and global cultural institution, we are charged to consistently expand access to the museum’s collection and the interpretive work of our curators and historians, while advancing the documentation and preservation of American musical history,” said museum CEO Kyle Young. “These online exhibitions, made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, enabled the museum to create this novel exhibit platform. With it, we are not only able to reshare the story of the artists and musicians who helped to broaden Nashville’s reputation as a true Music City, but also to tell a new story, that of the clothiers who created unmistakable designs that are now synonymous with country music.”