8 Great Museums in North America for Music Fans

There’s a music museum for you, whether you’re in Asheville, Cleveland, or South Dakota.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland illuminated by colorful lights at night

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opened in 1995, with the help of James Brown, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and more.

Photo by Aerial Agents

Between Hall of Fames dedicated to different genres and collections curated around specific artists and scenes, there’s a museum devoted to music in nearly every corner of North America. Do a little digging and you’ll find treasures such as rare peeks into Prince’s creative process (Paisley Park, located just outside Minneapolis) and the world’s largest collection of instruments (Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, the passion project of former Target exec Robert J. Ulrich).

The desire to document how songs shape our lives is alive and well in museums across the country. A long-overdue look at the wide range of African American music—more than 50 styles in all, including raw spirituals and beat-spliced R&B—debuted in Nashville as the National Museum of African American Music just a few years ago, and the 52,000-square-foot Hip Hop Museum is set to open in the South Bronx at the tail end of 2025. Here are eight more trip-worthy celebrations of the many forms of music that have moved us over the years.

American Jazz Museum

Kansas City, Missouri

The American Jazz Museum is headquartered within the historic 18th & Vine district, home of dizzying jam sessions between such rising stars as bandleader Count Basie and hometown hero Charlie Parker. A bronze statue of the Bird can be found on the corner of 17th & Vine, beckoning jazz heads toward a permanent collection that includes Harold Ashby’s saxophone, clarinetist Benny Goodman’s brown suede shoes, and the sequin gown Myra Taylor wore while performing with the Big Spenders.

Be sure to check the museum’s Blue Room schedule for weekly shows that channel the swinging bebop spirit of the 1930s and beyond. History buffs and sports fans should also wander through the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. It’s in part of the same complex the American Jazz Museum is in, and the complex stands just two blocks away from the YMCA where Andrew “Rube” Foster founded the influential league more than 100 years ago.

For more reflections on jazz’s roots and its many different movements elsewhere in the United States, visit the New Orleans Jazz Museum and The National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

An exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame shows a back view of a white jacket with a red cross and rhinestones on it

The Country Music Hall of Fame opened on Nashville’s Music Row in 1967.

Photo by Agave Photo Studio/Shutterstock

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Nashville, Tennessee

It’s easy to lose an entire afternoon within the seemingly endless 350,000-square-foot space that is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Experience the genre’s evolution at the permanent exhibit “Sing Me Back Home: Folk Roots to the Present,” then take stock of its current state at the museum’s annual “American Currents” survey and rotating shows centered on talent like Eric Church, Patty Loveless, and more. Don’t miss the look at Los Angeles’ country rock scene, which took shape in the ‘60s and catapulted the careers of Emmylou Harris and the Eagles.


Asheville, North Carolina

While there isn’t a national techno museum yet—here’s hoping Detroit builds one eventually, because it would be the perfect Motown Museum pairing—the Bob Moog Foundation did unveil its small but mighty Moogseum in 2019. Swing by downtown Asheville to play with synthesizer patches, theremins, and other tools of the electronic music trade, all while learning about the godfather of blips, bloops, and beeps. For a closer look at how Moog’s signature instruments are manipulated and made, walk to the nearby Moog Factory, which presents 45-minute demos in its store twice a day.

National Music Museum

Vermillion, South Dakota

To give you an idea of just how serious the National Music Museum is about preserving rare instruments, the sorely overlooked South Dakota star outbid the Met for a circa-1600 cittern in 2007, paying about $180,000 for a piece that was estimated to generate $6,000. In fact, the New York Times called the National Music Museum an “unlikely Eden” hiding in plain sight on the University of South Dakota campus, with “one of the largest and most important collections of historical instruments in the world.” The museum’s staff is serious about elevating its stature: The first phase of an eagerly awaited expansion opened in summer 2023, introducing seven new galleries to the first floor. Opening in March 2024 is “High Strung,” a survey of stringed keyboards from the past five centuries.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Cleveland, Ohio

With an expansive definition of “rock & roll” that includes Dolly Parton, Duran Duran, Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G., Rage Against the Machine, and Lionel Ritchie, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is more than a mere survey of guitar-centric songwriting. It cuts across clear genre divisions and captures the rebellious spirit that’s kept listeners and labels enthralled for decades. The museum recently announced a $100 million expansion—which is set to include space for traveling exhibits, live performances, and a center for inspiring future rock stars.

The front of the Stax Museum, a replica of Stax recording studio, with a cinema marquee above which are two red neon-light signs that say "Stax"

The Stax Museum, a replica of the former recording studio on the same site, allows you to feel the musical magic as you explore.

Photo by Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Memphis, Tennessee

Graceland and Sun Studio—the home of early hits by Johnny Cash, Elvis, and Roy Orbison—aren’t the only reasons to plan a trip to Tennessee’s second-largest city. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music tells the story of a studio, label, and sound that challenged racial divides throughout the Civil Rights Movement and supported the seminal work of such artists as Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and Isaac Hayes. Hayes’ beloved Cadillac Eldorado is a major draw at Stax, giving fans a glimpse of its glorious 24-karat gold trim and tricked-out amenities.

Studio Bell

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Anyone who associates Canada’s music scene with Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, and the Tiger Beat era of Justin Bieber needs to spend a few hours at Studio Bell. The sprawling complex includes five exhibition floors, the National Music Centre, and four Hall of Fame collections—one for country music, one for songwriters, one for Quebecois musicians, and one for the entire industry. Absorb information about everything from indigenous artists to the intersection of music and wellness, then head to King Eddy, a former blues venue and hotel that now houses a fully restored bar and restaurant, next to which is the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio that was used to record Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street and larger-than-life LPs from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and Canada’s own Neil Young.

Inside the Woody Guthrie Center, featuring an exhibit with red walls and guitars behind glass cases

Tickets to the Woody Guthrie Center are $12 for adults.

Courtesy of Woody Guthrie Center

Woody Guthrie Center

Tulsa, Oklahoma

A walk around the Woody Guthrie Center is about more than folk music or why songs like “This Land Is Your Land”—a fiery retort to the toothless melodies of “God Bless America”—resonated with such like-minded songwriters as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Joe Strummer. It’s a celebration of social justice.

True to the “this machine kills fascists” tagline on his acoustic guitar, Guthrie was a politically charged pioneer who advocated for socialist ideals during the Dust Bowl period and the Great Depression. The center taps into the timelessness of those steadfast principles by showcasing a wide range of rotating exhibits. Recent highlights have included reflections on women in country music, Phil Ochs and the peace movement, and the transgressive dance grooves of American disco.

Andrew Parks is a content strategist for Explore Minnesota and sometime writer for such publications and brands as Afar, Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, New York Magazine, Bandcamp, Apple, Red Bull and Bon Appétit.
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