A Journey to Nashville

Reflections on Music City’s Musical Legacy

Andrea Williams
Gay Mag
Published in
17 min readOct 25, 2019


Illustration by Carmen Johns

UUS Census data reveals that, for the 12-month period ending July 1, 2016, Nashville was growing at a rate of 100 people a day. It’s a nearly unbelievable statistic until you meet a few people, hang a little bit, and realize that the town is, indeed, made of transplants, that very few people are actually from here. We call them unicorns, the ones who are — the homegrown, Middle Tennessee born-and-breds who didn’t just show up one day with with starry eyes, a tattered backpack, and an acoustic guitar. The others, like me, neither native nor naive, remain nameless.

I had no intentions of moving here, no singer-songwriter fantasies or visions of stardom. Kansas City was my home, and my love for my city and commitment to its growth ran/runs deep. I’d left only once for an extended period — to study sport management at Georgia Southern University — and had been back but a few years when I met my husband, the person who’d eventually draw me back down south.

We were both working on the Vine then. I was in the marketing department at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and he had founded a band, called Vibe, that played happy hour in the American Jazz Museum’s Blue Room. Back then, my future husband and I spent our days and many nights there, in the heart of Kansas City’s Historic 18th and Vine Jazz District, in the same place that a pre-pubescent Michael Jackson sang about when he said he was “going to Kansas City.”

From nine am to six pm, before I made it to Happy Hour but after I’d given a couple tours or written a few press releases, I had the pleasure of escorting John “Buck” O’Neil, the museum’s chairman, around town. Buck was a former Negro League player with a magnetic personality who, in 1962, became the first black coach in the Majors, courtesy of the Chicago Cubs. He was 92 when we met — me, the wet-behind-the-ears twentysomething; him, the spry, nonagenarian with amazing mental clarity and a tendency to choose stairs over the elevator.

Buck relished in the telling of stories, and as a lifetime baseball fan, I soaked in his tales of barnstorming with the Satchel Paige All-Stars and playing in the Negro World Series like the parched earth welcomes new rain. Still, it was his stories about the old 18th and Vine…