The Museum of East Tennessee History was recently selected to receive the 2017 President’s Award, the highest project-based recognition presented by the Tennessee Association of Museums (TAM), for the Come to Make Records: Knoxville’s Contribution to American Popular Music exhibition, which also won TAM Awards of Excellence in the categories of best temporary exhibition and audiovisual component for an exhibition, for the introductory film produced by East Tennessee PBS. The President’s Award recipient is chosen from the top five scoring awards and the winner determined by the votes of the past presidents. The awards were presented at the recent Tennessee Association of Museums Conference held in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.


Come to Make Records was organized by the East Tennessee Historical Society in partnership with the Knox County Public Library and the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, a division of the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, as a temporary exhibition at the Museum of East Tennessee History and was on display April through October, 2016. The exhibit was developed to coincide with and provide context for the re-release of the St. James Sessions as a CD boxed set, which had been lovingly re-mastered by colleagues at the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound and Bear Family Records. In 1929 and 1930, the record label Brunswick-Vocalion took advantage of new technology that made recording equipment portable and traveled to Knoxville. Brunswick set up a studio in the St. James Hotel and recorded more than 40 artists who played not just country, but also jazz, blues and gospel. What is so striking about the St. James Sessions – especially when compared with similar location recordings made in Bristol and Johnson City at the same time – is their diversity. While many of the songs Vocalion recorded are “old time” stringband, jazz, big band, gospel, and blues make up a sizeable part of the collection. Additionally, many African American artists recorded tracks, including the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, Leola Manning, and Odessa Cansler. Come to Make Records explored this musical and cultural diversity and challenged notions of what early 20th Appalachia actually looked and sounded like. The exhibition was sponsored by Clayton Homes and, along with associated programming, including the Knoxville Stomp: Festival of Lost Music, was the result of partnerships among Knox County Public Library, Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, East Tennessee PBS, Visit Knoxville, the East Tennessee Historical Society, and WDVX Radio.


“We value recognition from our peers in the museum field as a high compliment,” says Cherel Henderson, director of the East Tennessee Historical Society. “Come to Make Records was a very popular exhibition, reaching into the memories of Knoxvillians, those across the region, and beyond.”


The purpose of the Awards of Excellence is to recognize, encourage, and promote excellence within the activities of the Tennessee museum community.  Nominations are made either by museum staff or community individuals and are submitted in January to regional representatives for adjudication. Each entry is presented to the TAM Awards Committee, which is composed of six regional representatives, two at-large members, and the committee chair. The committee makes the final decisions for the awards. Awards are based on creativity, originality, resourcefulness, success, support of museum mission statement, and utilization of staff and volunteers.