The Carnegie began life as Jackson’s first public library. It opened its doors on March 3, 1903 after more than 2 years of work by Dr. Mark Matthews, the minister of the Presbyterian Church. Robert Cartmell noted in his diary, prior to its opening, “noticed in the paper that Andrew Carnegie had sent his check… This puts a perpetual tax of $3,000 upon the town to keep up the concern. May be of use to a few persons, the few who are real students, but the mass who foot mostly the bill read trash… to the large majority it will amount to nothing… The day will come when Jackson will wish she had let Mr. Carnegie alone and and fix up her library on a smaller scale– we will see.” That day never came, the library was a success from the day it opened until a larger building was built to house it.
Now the building is devoted to telling stories in a different way. A Civil War Exhibit occupies the basement. A small, 70 seat theater is a perfect, intimate venue for music and plays, and the first floor is devoted to the music of West Tennessee.
Behind black owned, businesses in Jackson in the 1930’s Sonny Boy Williamson could be heard making the harmonica a serious musical instrument, creating a call and response that would later be called City Blues. At the same time, on the outskirts of town, white audiences were trying to dance to country music and the musicians began to make them happy mixing some blues and more soulful sounds with country standards. What happened was the first glimmer of what would become rock music. Particularly, when Carl Perkins decided to add a drummer to his group, the audience began to hear, what later would be called, rock and roll. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, even Elvis acknowledged these beginnings here in Jackson.
Come See Us
So now, the building that Andrew Carnegie built, will be telling the story of our Southern Musical Heritage. The older artists and the artists that continue to innovate and create their own unique sound here.