I recently conducted my own musical-history tour through Memphis and Nashville, TN, and Tupelo and Clarksdale, MS. I visited eight different music museums / institutions and saw some amazing stuff… B.B. King’s guitar, Hank Williams’ boots, Sam Phillips’ original studio console, Otis Redding’s suede jacket, and even the structural birthplaces of Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley.
But you know what I didn’t see? ONE good concert poster. Can you believe that?
We’re talking about GRACELAND, for heaven’s sake; plus Sun Studio, The Stax Museum, and the Smithsonian’s Rock ’N Soul Museum in Memphis; Hatch Show Print (!) and the wonderful Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville; Elvis’ Birthplace Museum in Tupelo; and the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale.
Most of these places focused on personally owned items such as guitars and clothing, plus a huge array of support material. That’s fine and good, and I enjoyed it all immensely.
But concert-poster wise, it was left wanting. For example: Here I was, beholding the actual log cabin in which Muddy Waters lived as a child, on display inside the Delta Blues Museum. And on the wall of the cabin is… a lousy 1970 common reproduction Muddy Waters / Howlin’ Wolf concert poster?
Yes, good blues concert posters that are 40 or 50 years old (http://www.postercentral.com/blues.htm) are hard to find, but not impossible. Same with Hatch Show Print and the Country Music Hall of Fame… where were the vintage Hank Williams, Carter Sisters, Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash concert posters (http://www.postercentral.com/country.htm), or even that countrified “hillbilly cat” from 1955, Elvis Presley (http://www.postercentral.com/elvispresley.htm)?
Now perhaps to the layman, there were a few decent concert posters sprinkled here & there throughout the eight institutions. But I’ve probably loaned 100 posters & artifacts to museums over the last two decades… from Los Angeles to Cleveland to New York to Paris. As I write this, I have posters on display in L.A.’s Grammy Museum and Ray Charles Memorial Library.
So I know a decent poster in a museum when I see one.
I’ve pictured (to the left) the common Muddy Waters poster the Delta Blues Museum has on display, and then (down below) two authentic, rare, original Muddy concert posters which truly belong in a museum. Sure, they’d be much pricier, but isn’t that what we expect from museums?
A source at the Rock ’N Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, which always has some outstanding concert posters on display, told me that it just means the curators of the Southern museums didn’t prioritize concert posters when they assembled their exhibits. It’s as simple as that.
And I think that’s a shame.
(Pete Howard can be contacted by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 805.540.0020.)