Starting this Saturday, February 18, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) will add its voice to the statewide centennial celebration by showcasing Arizona’s musical contributions to the world.
“I Am AZ Music: MIM Celebrates 100 Years of Arizona Music” examines Arizona’s history through a musical lens. Beginning with the original statehood celebration in 1912, MIM’s exhibition tells the story of numerous musicians, musical instrument makers, recording studios, performing arts organizations, and musical traditions significant to Arizona’s past, present, and future. The exhibition consists of more than 30 exhibits, each one including artifacts, photographs, and audiovisual content designed to bring the subjects to life.
“The traditions and personalities represented in our centennial exhibition highlight Arizona’s importance in the history of American music,” said MIM curator Cullen Strawn. “Country fans will enjoy our tributes to Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings, while jazz enthusiasts are sure to love the exhibit centered on Russell ‘Big Chief’ Moore, a member of the Gila River Indian Community who played trombone with Louis Armstrong.”
Below, we talked to Strawn about this exhibit, good musical “gets” and how it all came to be:
What was behind the inception of this exhibition?
MIM wished to contribute to the state’s centennial celebrations by creating a music-centric overview of Arizona’s first century.
How did you go about covering all of your bases?
Team research on Arizona’s musical past led to many interesting exhibit ideas. With the help of lenders across the state and beyond, a number of these ideas became realities in time for the exhibition.
Your mission was to document how music making continues to be an integral part of Arizona’s cultural fabric — can you explain?
From ceremony to social dance, from festival to concert stage, Arizonans have made music for all occasions. We aimed to highlight and honor these endeavors in the form of an engaging exhibition while pointing out that the work of contemporary musicians, instrument makers, and industry professionals who build on Arizona’s musical history continue to carry the state forward as an important musical hub.
What can one expect at this exhibit?
Guests can expect to experience a rich mix of audiovisual content, exquisitely built musical instruments, photographs, and other artifacts that will entertain and educate. Exhibits featuring various forms of country music, Native American music, jazz, rock, pop, and other themes will allow guests to leave knowing more about the history, cultural diversity, and musical heritage of the state.
What was your most exciting “get,” so-to-speak?
Because we’re displaying many exciting “gets,” it’s difficult to choose just one. Guests will see a double-neck guitar played by Duane Eddy on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in the early 1960s; a trombone played by Russell “Big Chief” Moore, a member of the Gila River Indian Community who performed with Louis Armstrong in the 1940s and 1960s; Alice Cooper’s clothing and objects from various stages in his career; instruments played by the Gin Blossoms; imaginative, one-of-a-kind multi-stringed instruments by luthier William Eaton, and the list goes on.
People might be surprised to learn that we have quite the music scene… What do you make of that?
Arizona boasts a fascinating blend of international influences, regional traditions, and constant creativity. It truly has been a center for music in a wide array of forms.
What should people living outside of Arizona know about our music scene?
This state has produced some very innovative and influential musical minds, and it shows no signs of stopping.
Were there any musical surprises along the way?
While developing the exhibition, we were honored to host Duane Eddy and his wife Deed, who visited MIM for the first time. Duane is a Grammy-winning guitarist and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee known for his “twangy” sound. With him he brought the very Gretsch hollow body guitar that he purchased in 1957 and played on classic hits like “Rebel ‘Rouser” and “Peter Gunn,” recorded right here in Phoenix. Soon MIM will feature this guitar in an Artist Gallery exhibit, which will complement the I Am AZ Music exhibition nicely by offering a closer look at one of Arizona’s musical legends.