Music is more than just entertainment. It plays a big part in developing trends, changing cultural perceptions, and shaping societal views. Some musicians change how we consider and use instruments. Others have a significant impact on a music genre in a short time. These artists and music movements are worth remembering, and some of the best music memorabilia museums are in America. Whether you're a superfan planning a music-themed road trip or simply searching for that holy grail of pop culture memorabilia, there are more than enough music museums to tour.
Fans of the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, don't have to click their heels three times to see the film's most famous memorabilia. Dorothy Gale's Ruby Slippers, made famous by a young Judy Garland, are on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
The red-sequined shoes are a cultural icon and one of the most asked about artifacts at the Smithsonian. A successful 2016 Kickstarter campaign funded research and work into the shoes' preservation.
When brothers Eddie and Alex formed Van Halen in 1974, they didn't anticipate their California brand of heavy metal becoming world-famous. Eddie's groundbreaking, unique style broke the boundaries of rock music so much that he built a guitar from Gibson and Fender parts and spray-painted it. The resulting instrument, Frankenstein, combined the best of both guitar brands. Frankenstein's pattern of black and white stripes on a red background is evocative of Van Halen's playing style: unconventional and hot-blooded. Van Halen built several of these guitars, one of which belongs to the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
Most people know Louis Armstrong by his legendary hit, "What a Wonderful World." The 1967 recording is one of the most recognizable compositions of the 20th century and solidified Armstrong's role as the founding father of jazz. The Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, where the famed trumpeter lived, houses some of the most interesting artifacts from his life, including several recordings, instruments, and a gold-plated trumpet. The museum also has the original score from the first recording of "What a Wonderful World."
Whether you're an Elvis fan or simply touring the city of Memphis, you won't want to miss stopping at Graceland. The over 10,000 square foot mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, was the former home of Elvis Presley and his family until he passed away in 1977. During his time here, the King of Rock and Roll built an impressive collection of cars, planes, costumes, furniture, and numerous awards. The artifacts are on display in a state-of-the-art exhibit complex on-site, but to get inside Graceland Mansion, you'll have to spend a bit more.
The Motown sound emerged during a turbulent and progressive time in American history. Hitsville, U.S.A, a modest music recording studio in Detroit, Michigan, was a driving force in pop culture and society with its sophisticated sound and poignant lyrics. Today, Motown Records is a museum dedicated to preserving and promoting Motown's legacy. The museum's gem is Studio A, where artists like The Supremes and Stevie Wonder recorded songs during Hitsville's heyday. Studio A also houses an 1877 Steinway grand piano, played by Paul McCartney, Marvin Gaye, among other talented musicians.
The best collection of country music memorabilia resides right where you might expect, in Nashville, Tennesse, also known as Music City. The Johnny Cash Museum, voted the world's #1 music museum by National Geographic and Forbes, houses the most extensive collection of Cash-related memorabilia. Upstairs, you'll find the Patsy Cline Museum, an exhibition of personal items, recordings, and costumes gathered with her family. Tickets for both museums are the best value and provide a glimpse into the private lives of these influential pop-rock and country music crossover stars.
Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, is the birthplace of Rock and Roll. The small studio opened in 1950 and helped launch artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and B.B. King to stardom. Today, Sun Studio continues to operate as a museum with priceless memorabilia and recording equipment. Visitors can stand in the same spot where Ike Turner and blues legend Howlin' Wolf once crooned. In the evenings, the museum turns into a professional recording studio. It's where modern artists like Beck and U2 recorded albums, continuing Sun's contributions to music history and culture.
At the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the Delta region resides where the blues began. The Delta Blues Museum pays homage to the history of the blues and local musicians such as John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke. One of the most intriguing artifacts is the cabin where legendary musician Muddy Waters lived as a young sharecropper and tractor driver. The true influence of the Delta Blues Museum is its educational program, which encourages young artists to continue making blues music.
Prince's Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota, isn't just his former home and production studio. The sprawling private complex is a deep dive into the artist's creative process and lifestyle. Museum admission pays for tours of Prince's recording studios, private music club, and the soundstage where he rehearsed and held concerts and events. Paisley Park also operates as a music and festival venue, fulfilling Prince's vision of opening the park to the public one day.
Selena Quintanilla-Perez, or Selena to the masses, was the Queen of Tejano music and set to become one of the most successful Latin crossover artists ever. Her untimely death in 1995 immortalized Selena as an icon interrupted, creating an aura of mystery around the talented young artist. Devoted fans can satisfy some of that curiosity at The Selena Museum in Corpus Christi, Texas. The museum is attached to her family's recording studio and houses Selena's records, Grammy award, and some of her most famous costumes, which she designed.