VERMILLION, S.D. -- Instruments owned and played by some of music’s greatest legends, including a Bob Dylan harmonica, a guitar custom-made for Johnny Cash and an electric guitar once owned by Muddy Waters, are all part of a new exhibit at the National Music Museum, located on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion.
These instruments are part of six new additions that will be on display during an open house at the National Music Museum commencement weekend, May 3-4, on the USD campus. Museum hours on Friday are extended until 8 p.m. Admission to the Museum both days is free and provides visitors access to all NMM exhibits as well as several other special attractions, such as an Elvis Presley guitar and the King’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle, courtesy of Pioneer Auto Show, Murdo, S.D.
In honor of Elvis, Heck’s Dakota Style Barbecue of Vermillion will serve Memphis-style barbecue both days (4 to 8 p.m. on Friday and from 11 a.m. on Saturday until supplies run out). The first 50 visitors on Friday who successfully complete a “scavenger” hunt in the NMM will receive a voucher for a free plate of Heck’s Dakota Style Barbecue.
“We expect these headline-worthy instruments to bring many first-time visitors through the doors of the NMM,” said Cleveland Johnson, director of the National Music Museum. “This is a game-changing event for the Museum, demonstrating our intention to amp up the energy level of our programming. We intend to give our visitors and devoted members a reason to come back again and again to visit.”
The crown jewel of the celebrity guitars’ exhibit is the 1975 C.F. Martin guitar used by Elvis during 29 concerts in the last year of his life. The instrument shows damage from an Elvis event in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Feb. 14, 1977 when the blue corduroy strap on the guitar broke during a performance of “C.C. Rider.” In frustration, the King threw the instrument into the air, allowing it to crash onto the stage, damaging the instrument’s lower edge. The guitar has never been repaired, preserving the physical evidence of this historic incident. Elvis eventually offered the guitar as a gift to a young woman in the audience, and it began its gradual journey, through several owners, to the collection of the National Music Museum.
The exhibition also includes a 1966 custom-made Grammer-branded Johnny Cash guitar; a 1961 electric guitar autographed and used by blues icon Waters; a 1958 Explorer model bass guitar once used by The Who bassist John Entwistle who traded the instrument to fellow musician Robert Johnson (who also performed with Entwistle in the band, Ox, in 1975); and a 1954 electric guitar once owned by country legend Chet Atkins. Atkins gave this guitar to country pianist Floyd Cramer, who passed this now infamous guitar along to Fred Gilley’s family. Since 1963, the guitar has been played by Gilley’s cousins: Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, Jimmy Swaggart and J.W. Brown.
One non-guitar item is included in this new celebrity collection: Dylan’s harmonica, an A-flat Hohner Marine Band 1896/20 model, that was used by the legendary singer-songwriter in the 1980s. Dylan eventually gave the instrument to his friend and guitar technician, Cesar Diaz.
“The opening of this exhibition marks a new dimension in the development of the National Music museum and will attract the interest of new visitors interested in the history of rock, country and related kinds of contemporary music,” said Ted Muenster, on behalf of the National Music Museum Board of Trustees.
For more information about the National Music Museum, please visit http://nmmusd.org/, which includes a virtual tour of the facility. The National Music Museum is located on the campus of USD at 414 East Clark Street and is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. The NMM’s summer schedule, with extended evening hours until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays begin with this event.