John Rumble

I became interested in folk music and then in bluegrass…

Interview with John Rumble, country music historian

© Lilly Drumeva-O’Reilly.

John W. Rumble is the senior historian for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN. He has written many books and articles on the subject. I met with him couple of times in his office and at lunch, where we discussed the different movements in country music: “The Singing Cowboys”, “The Nashville Sound”, “The Bakersfield Country”, “The Outlaws” and many others. John was very helpful in my research by providing me with a workspace at the museum and finding the right books. I spent long hours studying them. It was a pleasure to talk about my areas of interest with John over lunch. He told me interesting stories and opened a new world for me. I am very grateful for his time spent and for the books he gave to me.

Here is a fragment of what he shared with me. For more information on the Country Music Hall of Fame, you may visit:

Tell me about the Hall of Fame, when was it opened, who’s idea was it?

The idea emerged in the 50s. The country music industry had been building since the 1920s. Publishers started to print sheet music and tried to develop musical copyrights with country artists. Radio came along. Record companies started to sign country artists. After World War II, there was a huge development in the industry. One reason was the call for patriotism, where country music fitted very well. The economy was growing. People had more money to see live shows and buy records. But in the mid 50s came rock and roll. Artists like Elvis temporarily eclipsed the sales of country music. The baby boomers were coming of age. Radio stations dropped country programs altogether. Television was coming on strong. The industry started to form organizations in order to protect itself and create more income. Broadcasting is all about attracting sponsors. The Country Music Association’s goal was to convince the media that “country” is a selling sound, that it can draw the audiences. It was formed in 1958. They did surveys, organized presentations. Part of their mission was to build a country music museum, where items and music could be preserved and displayed. For this purpose, the board established the Country Music Foundation and started a fundraising campaign. The museum opened in 1967. The CMA staff also served as museum staff. Slowly they started hiring part time librarians. In the early 70s the museum developed and expanded. I have seen it grow; I’ve worked here for 30 years.

When was the current Hall of Fame building opened to the public?

In May 2001.

What are the sources of income?

Ticket sales, tours booked, merchandising, grants. Also rentals. We own our restaurant and catering service.

How many people work here?

About 75. But it is hard to say. We have many divisions: sales & marketing, operations, public relations, development. Many museum programs: school, public, songwriter, instrument demonstrations, panel discussions, film, and events at the Ford Theater. The new CMA Theater opened recently, with its 800 seat capacity. Ricky Skaggs was the first “Artist in Residence”.

What is your background, how did you get involved with country music? You have a PhD in American history?

My parents encouraged me and my sister to play music. We had piano lessons. I became interested in folk music (Peter, Paul & Mary) and then in bluegrass. I loved to sing harmony. I came to Nashville in 1975 to study at Vanderbilt University. I did my dissertation on Fred Rose and his influence on the country music industry.

Thanks John, all the best

Lilly Drumeva