The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and Visit Clarksville honored the Roxy Regional Theatre and Grammy award-winning banjoist Charlie Cushman in his hometown with the unveiling of “Tennessee Music Pathways” markers. Local and state leaders, Roxy supporters and the Cushman family gathered in two ceremonies to mark the special commemorations on Thursday.
Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts, Visit Clarksville Board Chairman Ginna Holleman and TDTD Commissioner Mark Ezell stand with the Roxy's TN Music Pathways marker.
“Clarksville has truly done so much work on being that one-of-a-kind destination for visitors, and it’s in that keeping that the Tennessee Music Pathway started in 2018,” said Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell. “Tennessee is the home of seven music genres. The idea that came up was, ‘How do we, across the state, remind visitors of locations where they can come and listen to live music and entertainment and learn about our legends that only Tennessee can offer?’ When they come to the Roxy, we want them to stay and enjoy Clarksville and spend their money here. We’ve now tied the Ken Burns music pathway into the Tennessee Music Pathway and we know that’s going to drive hundreds of thousands of people to our state over the next few years.”
The Roxy has been the cornerstone of entertainment in Clarksville since the early 1900s. What was initially The Lillian, built in 1931, served as the city’s first movie theatre. After two fires and a dark period during the Great Depression, the theatre was rebuilt in 1947 and became the Roxy of today with a sleek interior and new neon lighting. The Roxy entertained Clarksvillians with first-run movies until 1980. After sitting vacant for three years, The Roxy Regional Theatre opened for live theatre in 1983. In 1995, a professional company was created to supply the great demand for Shakespeare, other classics, school curriculum-based productions and holiday shows, and to enlarge the Roxy’s outreach services to the community. The Roxy Regional School of the Arts was also born in 1995 and has since then offered some 850 teens extensive training in modern theatre and the opportunity to work alongside professionals. Over the decades, more than 500 productions and more than 2,000 actors and musicians have graced the Roxy’s stage. The building has also served as a backdrop for music videos for artists like Sheryl Crow and Craig Morgan.
“The Roxy is iconic in our community,” said Mayor Joe Pitts. “It separates our community from so many others and we’re so grateful to have them here. We believe in performing arts and there’s nothing more important in our community that being Art City USA. We have an abiding interest in making sure this is preserved, not only as a building and a façade and a marquee, but as an institution because that’s what separates us.”
Charlie Cushman stands with his TN Music Pathways marker at 325 Commerce Street.
Friends, family and community leaders next gathered at Planters Bank, 325 Commerce Street, which was the site of the former Collins Music Store, to honor Clarksville Native Charlie Cushman.
At the early age of four, Cushman first expressed interest in the banjo. After a few lessons at Collins starting at age seven, Charlie was showing his teacher things he had learned at home from his Earl Scruggs records. His “formal” lessons were over. Charlie began playing the banjo in talent contests and at parties around Clarksville, then at age 10 began playing each Saturday night on the “Tennessee Valley Jamboree” in Waverly, Tenn. By age 14, Charlie began playing the banjo six days each week on “The Carl Tipton Show” on WLAC-TV in Nashville. He played with James Monroe and the Midnight Ramblers, Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, Mel Tillis and the Statesiders, along with sessions in Nashville and at Opryland, USA.
He later played with Mike Snider on the road and at the Grand Ole Opry until 2004. Throughout his 40-plus years in the business, Charlie has performed and recorded with numerous country and bluegrass artists. His artistry graces more than 20 Grammy-nominated projects and 15 winning projects. He was awarded a Grammy in 2014 for Best Bluegrass Album.
“Today we get to honor one of Tennessee’s legends – those people in the business that have made such an impact – Clarksville’s own Charlie Cushman,” said Commissioner Ezell. Addressing Charlie directly, the commissioner told Cushman that his music has been a “tremendous gift to the state of Tennessee.”
“I’m truly honored today – that’s an understatement,” said Cushman. “To reflect on Commerce Street in my hometown, basically where it all started for me at age seven by taking lessons, this is truly a full circle event and moment. That means the world to me.”
Since 1931, entertainment has been in the Cushman family, when Charlie’s great-grandfather owned a dry goods store on Franklin Street and hired an escape artist for a store sale. He also conveyed how much downtown has meant to his entire family. “All of my relatives have worked within one mile of here – made their livings here. I’m so appreciative that this is taking place right here where it is.”
“The Cushman family is synonymous with Clarksville,” said Mayor Pitts, acknowledging relatives with police service and who owned businesses. “This is a great day in Clarksville, Tennessee because we are recognizing one of our own in Charlie Cushman. We thank Visit Clarksville for partnering with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development in making these markers happen.”
Tennessee Music Pathways connects visitors to the people, places and genres that make Tennessee the Soundtrack of America. A statewide driving tour, the Pathways represents hundreds of landmarks across the state and spans seven genres of music: blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, soul, rockabilly and rock 'n' roll. In addition to the Roxy Regional Theatre and Charlie Cushman, Montgomery County’s designees include Dunbar Cave State Park, Clarence Cameron White, and Jimi Hendrix.