Nashville, TN (WSMV) – The National Museum of African American Music is set to open in the fall of 2020 and a team of people, from construction to curation, is working tirelessly to get it ready.
Dr. Dina Bennett serves as Senior Curator on the project. She manages a small team in charge of finding and acquiring every piece that will be featured in the museum.
“There’s a sacredness to what I do,” says Bennett. “We’re telling the complete story of the American soundtrack.”
Her previous experience was in the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, which focuses on jazz as an art form in American music. She also served as the Director of Education for the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi – a museum dedicated to the life of BB King and his contributions to the blues and the delta.
After the death of blues legend B.B. King in 2015, his estate auctioned off items that Bennett and her team were able to acquire in 2019.
“We were able to purchase several stage costumes and handwritten lyrics [from King’s estate],” says Bennett. “[We also have] a collection of sheet music from Thomas A. Dorsey who is the father of Gospel music.”
Bennett says one of the pieces of clothing to be featured in the upcoming museum was worn by King to the opening of B.B. King’s Blues Club in Nashville.
“I feel very blessed to be able to take these items into our care and be able to weave a story around it,” says Bennett.
Bennett is an ethnomusicologist by training who specializes in African American music and culture. She was hired for the project in 2018 and helped to create an advisory committee made up of several scholars with specialties in different musical traditions.
The museum also relied on the help of consultants from the Smithsonian to develop what Bennett calls the “story line” of the museum.
Bennett grew up in Topeka, Kansas to a musical family.
“My father and his brother had a band when they were younger,” says Bennett. “My grandfather was a pianist.”
Bennett took up piano but also began playing the clarinet in 4th grade – which she continued through high school marching band and concert band.
Bennett eventually became a musician in her church, conducting the choir and playing piano accompaniment for her father’s solos.
She played one such hymn for News4’s Lauren Lowrey, “May the work I’ve done speak for me,” written by Sullivan Pugh in 1967.
“May the Work I’ve done speak for me,” the lyrics read as the song reflects on the deeds a person has done. It goes on to read “may the life I live speak for me.”
“This song is definitely a testament [in my life],” says Bennett. “When I’m gone, this museum will speak for me and the work that I and my teammates are doing.”
Bennett is still many months away from completion and is currently in final approval of all written text and caption that will be seen in the museum.
"It's pretty much a dream come true,” says Bennett. “This is my dream job."