July 20, 2008

Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and brought to you by your state humanities council. Funded by the United States Congress.

Listen to America's music and hear the story of freedom. It's the story of people in a New World places they have left behind, and ideas they have brought with them. It is the story of people who were already here, but whose world is remade. The distinct cultural identities of all of these people are carried in song -- both sacred and secular. Their music tracks the unique history of many peoples reshaping each other into one incredibly diverse and complex people -- Americans. Their music is the roots of American music.

new_harmonies_postcard_image1The music that emerges is known by names like blues, country western, folk ballads, and gospel. The sounds are as sweet as mountain air, and as sultry as a summer night in Mississippi delta country. The instruments vary from fiddle to banjo to accordion to guitar to drum. But a drum in the hands of an African sounds different than one in the hands of a European. And neither is the drumbeat of an American Indian. Yet all the rhythms merge, as do the melodies and harmonies, producing completely new sounds -- new music. The musics merge because this is America. New waves of music ride ashore in the hearts and heads of new immigrants and they create still new sounds from what they have brought with them and what they find here. And nothing expresses the tensions -- or the triumphs -- of this journey into democracy quite like the music that it spawns.

The main beat of the exhibition is the on-going cultural process that has made America the birthplace of more music than any place on earth. The exhibition provides a fascinating, inspiring, and toe-tapping listen to the American story of multi-cultural exchange. The story is full of surprises about familiar songs, histories of instruments, the roles of religion and technology, and the continuity of musical roots from "Yankee Doodle Dandy" to the latest hip hop CD.