NEWARK, N.J. – Newark is joining Los Angeles, Nashville and Cleveland, Mississippi, as a host of a museum celebrating the Grammy music awards, a tip of the hat to the state’s rich musical legacy.
The Grammy Museum Experience officially opens Thursday at Newark’s Prudential Center arena. It features a trove of memorabilia from numerous artists, with a focus on new Jersey natives such as Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston. It also has interactive exhibits that let visitors get behind the mic or mixing board to make their own music.
The museum is another jewel in the revitalization of Newark’s downtown, stretching back to the opening of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center 20 years ago. The Prudential Center opened in 2007 and is considered among the top concert venues in the country. Together the two have served as catalysts for new retail and residential development.
“We look forward to welcoming musicians, music lovers, students, families, and visitors of all kinds to Newark,” Democratic Mayor Ras Baraka said. “The arrival of the Grammy Museum at Newark just further proves what we’ve been saying all along — we are America’s next destination city.”
The driving force behind the project is Bob Santelli, founding executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, which opened in 2008. It didn’t hurt that Santelli is a New Jersey native who grew up with members of Springsteen’s E Street Band and has written two books with The Boss.
When the decision was made to put exhibits around the country, certain spots were natural choices: Nashville as the centre of country music, and Mississippi as the birthplace of the blues, the precursor to rock ‘n’ roll.
Newark and northern New Jersey, home to the likes of Houston and Sinatra along with Queen Latifah, jazz giant Sarah Vaughan, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and numerous others, made sense as well.
“It had a tremendous musical legacy much like the Mississippi Delta, but it had been overlooked over much of the last half century,” Santelli said.
The museum is equal parts traditional and hands-on. Among the exhibits are some of the more famous costumes from past Grammy ceremonies, from Ella Fitzgerald to Michael Jackson, Madonna to Beyonce and Taylor Swift.
A tuxedo worn by Sinatra is there, along with a choir robe worn by Houston when she sang at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, site of her memorial service in 2012. Springsteen’s plain white t-shirt and jeans are there as well, in addition to a humorous, hand-written letter to a landlady asking for patience regarding a late rent payment.
Visitors can try their hand at making music with several interactive exhibits. One features a video drumming lesson from Max Weinberg of Springsteen’s E Street Band. Another shows how to make a recording with rapper Wyclef Jean.
The museum also will host a variety of programs for students, including one that allows them to meet the artists and another that lets them watch sound checks to see what goes into putting on a concert, Santelli said.
“We’re trying to make sure it’s not all about the costumes and guitars and interactive,” he said. “The physical space is just the tip of the iceberg — the value is in the programs, getting into the schools to bring artists in to talk to the kids.”
This story has been corrected to show that the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles opened in 2008, not in 2006.
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