Why Nashville Is Becoming a Recording Mecca for Jill Scott & Other R&B Stars

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Kelly Price, Leela James & Jill Scott

Nashville and country have been synonymous for decades. But in recent years, Music City recording studios like Blackbird and RCA Studio A have become unlikely homes to a different sound: contemporary soul.

R&B stars Leela James, Kelly Price, Anthony Hamilton and Jill Scott -- whose fifth LP, Woman, debuted at No. 1 on the Aug. 15 Billboard 200 -- all made albums in the Tennessee capital. "I only wanted to record in Nashville -- there's live music everywhere," says Scott. Adds Phil Thornton, vice president/GM of urban inspirational for eOne Music (Lalah Hathaway, Mary Mary's Erica Campbell): "Nashville is more than country, cows and farms. R&B and gospel have strong roots here."

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In some ways, the musical shift is a course correction. During the 1950s and '60s, Jefferson Street -- which some call the original Music Row -- saw the likes of Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix, along with local legends Frank Howard and Marion James, play regularly until Interstate I-40 was built, cutting through the neighborhood in the late '60s. Its rich legacy will be displayed when the National Museum of African American Music opens in 2018.

"Nashville is going through a boom like Atlanta did 20 years ago," says museum board member and India Arie manager Anasa Troutman. "It's a great testament to [the] progression that's happening here."

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of Billboard.