Center for Popular Music

Mission Statement

The mission of the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University is to foster research and scholarship in American popular music, and to promote an awareness of and appreciation for America's diverse musical culture.

To carry out this mission the center:

  • Maintains an extensive archive and library that serves as a regional and national resource.
  • Disseminates scholarship via publications, lectures and media productions.
  • Stages public programs that introduce and interpret various aspects of American vernacular music.

Goals and Objectives

  • To provide a research resource that will serve the needs of the regional, national and international scholarly community as well as those of MTSU students and faculty.
  • To study and promote understanding of the ways in which various genres of popular music, and the cultures from which they arise, relate to each other.
  • To study and promote understanding of the development of popular music through time.
  • To study and promote understanding of the ways in which community-based oral traditions and mass marketed commercial musics relate to each other.


Popular music studies are among the most rapidly growing areas of contemporary music scholarship. Popular music topics figure prominently at conferences and in professional journals of ethnomusicology, folklore, musicology, American studies, popular culture, sociology and communications disciplines. The center's position within the university, reporting to the university Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs, reflects this multi-disciplinary approach to popular music studies.

The collections and programs of the center focus on the importance of music as an aspect of culture rather than as fine art. The center embraces a broad concept of popular music, encompassing both contemporary and historical musics, and including various forms of vernacular religious music as well as secular traditions. The center also recognizes the importance of the interplay between community-based oral traditions and commercial realms, and acknowledges the contributions of various regional and ethnic traditions in shaping the mainstream of popular music.

Much of 20th century popular music has its roots in southern oral traditions, making Tennessee a marvelous laboratory for the study of popular music. Ragtime, jazz, blues, Anglo- and African-American folk musics, country, gospel and rock have all flourished across the state and have contributed greatly to mainstream popular music. The music business has long constituted an important segment of Tennessee's economy.

Archive and Library

The heart of the center's operations is its archive and library. Beginning in November 1985, with no research materials at all, the center's collection has evolved into a large and complex resource that is now recognized as one of the leading popular music collections in existence. It has been described as "the preeminent music collection in the South" and as "a worldclass archive."

CIVIL WAR MUSIC - Time-Life Music president John Hall, presents The Civil War Music Collector's Edition to MTSU President James E. Walker. The set, produced by the center, was promoted nationally to 500,000 Civil War enthusiasts. From left are Paul Wells, center director and set co-producer; Charles Wolfe, MTSU English professor and set annotator; Hall: Bruce Nemerov, center audio specialist and set coproducer; Walker; and Rep. John Bragg, Murfreesboro.

The collection includes music in various commercial forms such as sheet music, sound recordings, song books, broadsides and related materials necessary to study popular music in all its cultural, social, historical, musical and commercial contexts. It contains over 11,500 books and scores including more than 4,000 rare books; 82,000 sound recordings in formats from cylinders to compact discs; 55,000 pieces of sheet music including over 3,300 song broadsides; 1,200 periodical titles; and extensive holdings of trade catalogs, photos, posters, manuscripts, news clippings and related materials. Members of the center staff engage in field documentation of music via audio recording and photography, resulting in the creation of much unique material for the center's archive.

The center's sheet music collection, the largest in the South, includes material from the late 18th century to the present. It also includes the Kenneth S. Goldstein Collection of American Song Broadsides, the only significant collection of song broadsides in the South. Other aspects of the center's holdings focus on rock and its roots, vernacular religious music, popular instruments and music of the South.

Users of the Center for Popular Music

The center's collection serves 2,000-3,000 researchers annually. In addition to MTSU students and faculty, researchers have come from nearly every state in the nation and approximately a dozen foreign countries. Center clientele includes scholars in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa; trade and university presses; the music industry; state agencies; museum personnel; and public radio and television producers.

Programs, Publications and Services

The center has produced over 20 lectures, conferences and seminars bringing leading American popular music scholars to MTSU. The most successful programs have combined a lecture or seminar about a particular type of music with performances by leading artists. Such well-attended events have included South African and African-American vocal traditions (1990), Louisiana Cajun music (1993) and fingerstyle guitar(1995).

The center maintains a fully equipped audio laboratory that serves the preservation needs of the center and provides services to radio producers, state agencies, record companies and individuals. Center staff has consulted with historic sites and museums on the presentation and interpretation of period music. A substantial outcome of this research direction was the 1991 production for Time-Life Music of The Civil War Music Collector's Edition, a three-CD set featuring recordings of material from the center's collection, and performances and arrangements based on comprehensive historical research.


The Center for Popular Music has quickly become one of the leading music research centers in the country. Its broad-based archive continues to give music scholars in the region a resource rivaling major libraries of the North and West; center programs enrich audiences throughout the region; and center publications receive national and interna- tional distribution. Continued growth of the research collection and exciting new projects point to a promising future for the Center for Popular Music at MTSU.