The NMAAM: Education and Immersion Through Music

February 26, 2021

The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) honors and celebrates the history and sounds of America’s rich music traditions rooted in the African American experience. We were proud to collaborate with the museum team to create an immersive experience where visitors learn through reading, hearing, feeling, dancing, singing, creating, and becoming a part of the story. At NMAAM, visitors can find a musical style that speaks to them — and speak back.

“One Nation Under A Groove” is a celebration of R&B. Here, guests can create their own musical hit by mixing and arranging tracks. “The Message” traces the evolution of hip-hop and rap and challenges visitors to test their rap skills as an MC in a rap duel using popular beats as backing tracks. Graffiti installations fashioned by local Nashville artist Troy Duff immerse visitors in the evolving and visceral look of hip-hop — from the grit of its Bronx roots to the bling and sparkle associated with Hip-Hop Nation. An interactive dance experience bridges the space between “One Nation Under A Groove” and “The Message,” where visitors can get up and move along with hip-hop and R&B hits. 

An exploration of spiritual and gospel music awaits visitors in “Wade in the Water.” Design elements reflect stained glass, the weathered clapboard siding of Southern churches, the brick of an urban church, and worn wooden pews. This space not only traces the deep and moving history of gospel music, but invites visitors to join a gospel choir. Visitors can step into an immersive soundbooth experience where a virtual choir leads them in singing and swaying in a gospel performance, encouraging even reluctant participants to raise up their voices.

In “Crossroads,” visitors can learn about universal themes and stories told through the Blues. Experiences encourage visitors to try their skills at creating a blues song by weaving together different elements inspired by classic blues tales of woe. Those more interested in creating that iconic blues sound can learn how to play on the one-string diddley bow. Vibrant graphics and material choices transport visitors along the path of the Great Migration – from the juke joints of the South to the northern cities where many African Americans settled and established strong communities, despite Jim Crow legacies of segregation. 

At NMAAM, visitors not only learn about the roots of African American music, they experience the emotional connection that drives home an important truth: American Music is African American Music. We were honored to work on a museum that expanded our own understanding, as a design firm, of various perspectives and expressions of identity.