The story of the Ryman auditorium is itself fascinating, never mind all the famous musicians, entertainers, politicians magicians and more trapsed onto the stage of that cathedral, first of Gospel preaching and then later of country and bluegrass music, and even later of rock n’ roll. Today its in the middle of downtown Nashville, but it wasn’t always so. It began as the Union Gospel Tabernacle with the Rev. Sam Jones as its stem-winding preacher.
But in fact the tabernacle didn’t yet exist when he began to attract large crowds. And as fortune would have it, a profoundly non-Christian steamboat captain decided to come see what all the shouting was about, and perhaps to be amused by the preacher and his antics and histrionics. But suddenly the skeptic and sinner became a changed man, and this handsome ship captain was named Ryman.
How could he make up for his life of profligacy? He was already almost 50 years of age, so he proposed to build a proper preaching tabernacle for Rev. Jones, and so he did. It opened in 1892 to great fanfare. Financially it nearly wrecked Ryman’s bank account, but he reckoned it was worth it. Here’s a painting of it way back when.
And here it is today in the shadow of the Bat Building, otherwise known as the At+T tower and only a stones throw from the country music hall of fame.
There is so much more to tell about this place, and we’ve only just begun. It was not until 1904 that the building began to become a multi-purpose building, for music, political speeches, and all kinds of entertainment, but it never lost its ambience as a sacred place.
When Ryman suddenly died in 1904, the management was handed over to one Mrs. Lula Naff, which did not become official until 1920 when she had more than proved herself. Actually the venue had always been multi-purpose, on the one hand since 1892 housing the Southern Baptist Convention on the other various music events and famous speakers, and Mrs. Naff was especially good at booking progressive speakers as we will see in the next post.