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Record-Breaking Storm Floods ‘Music City’

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SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. This week on our program, we tell about Nashville, Tennessee, and its efforts to recover from severe flooding.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The official nickname of Nashville is "Music City, USA." When people think of Nashville, they think of country music. The city is home to the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and many major record companies. But some of these famous places were seriously damaged by severe flooding earlier this month.

Rivers flooded parts of Tennessee after a record-breaking storm. More than thirty centimeters of rain fell on May first and second. The water swelled most of the area’s lakes, small rivers, creeks and streams. Much of that water flowed into the Cumberland River, which flows through Nashville.

On May third, the Cumberland River measured almost sixteen meters, more than three and a half meters above flood stage. This is the highest level since nineteen thirty-seven.

STEVE EMBER: The flooding caught most people by surprise. There were power failures, which made it difficult to warn drivers about flooded streets.

Hundreds of people were rescued by boats from their flooded homes. At least twenty-nine people were killed in Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky, either by floodwaters or tornadoes.

At least nine people were killed in Nashville. Cleaning up and repairing that city may cost a billion and a half dollars or more.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The water flooded some of Nashville’s best-known places, including the Grand Ole Opry House. The Grand Ole Opry is the heart of country music in America. Performances and music broadcasts have taken place there since nineteen twenty-five.

By the nineteen forties, "Grand Ole Opry" had become the most important country music radio show in America. Roy Acuff was perhaps the most popular Opry artist of that time. Here he is with the Smoky Mountain Boys performing "Wabash Cannonball."


STEVE EMBER: The Ryman Auditorium was home to the Grand Ole Opry until nineteen seventy-four. Then the show moved to the Grand Ole Opry House, fourteen kilometers east of the center of the city. The flood damaged the building and destroyed instruments, costumes, sheet music and audio tapes. The Opry was forced to move its shows to other concert halls.

Several other music theaters in the city were also flooded. So was the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. More than one thousand people staying at the hotel were taken to a nearby high school.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum suffered only minor damage. Objects from famous country music stars of the past were not affected.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: However, many of Nashville’s current country music performers lost instruments and equipment when a storage center was flooded. Musician Brad Paisley said most of his guitars and equipment for his upcoming concerts had been destroyed.

Hundreds of other musicians also store their instruments and equipment there. Ben Jumper, the owner of the storage business, said he expected his losses would amount to tens of millions of dollars.

The floodwaters damaged or destroyed many other businesses and homes in the city. On May sixth, country music star Kenny Chesney posted a video on YouTube. It shows the floodwaters on his property. He asked for help for people affected by the flooding.

KENNY CHESNEY: "This is my property here in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve got thirty-nine acres here and you can see it’s all under about ten to twelve feet of water. I live right on the river. I want to urge all of you guys to do whatever you can to help the people of Nashville. As long as I’ve been here this is the toughest thing that’s ever happened to this city and I want to urge everybody out there to give whatever you can – as little as you can or as much as you can — to give something because there’s a lot of people really hurting right now.

"I lost a big portion of this property but there’s a lot of people in this city who have lost their lives and their livelihoods. So please -- toothbrush, toothpaste, two dollars, twenty dollars, two hundred dollars, two thousand dollars, whatever. It all adds up and it all goes to a good cause. Keep Nashville, Tennessee, in your prayers."

STEVE EMBER: Here is Kenny Chesney singing one of his hits, "I’m Alive."


The music industry is supporting several disaster-relief efforts for Nashville. The Twelfth Annual Grammy Block Party and Membership Celebration was held May eleventh. It raised money for the Recording Academy’s new MusiCares Nashville Flood Relief Fund. This event helps local musicians in need.

The money will pay for food and clothing, transportation, clean-up efforts, relocation costs and medicine.

GAC, a cable television network for country music, broadcast a program May sixteenth to raise money for relief efforts. It was broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium which was not damaged by the floods.

The yearly CMA Music Festival will be held June tenth to the thirteenth. Half the money from the festival will be given to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee for flood relief.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Famous citizens of Nashville are also organizing events. Singer and songwriter Kesha announced a flood benefit concert to take place June sixteenth. All profits will be used to help families affected by the flood.

Kesha said: "Nashville helped shape me as an artist and as a person and my love for this city is beyond words. I will continue to do anything I can to help rebuild this city and support the families and animals who have been affected by this tragedy." Last Monday, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill announced another benefit concert on June twenty-second. It is called “Nashville Rising: A Benefit Concert for Flood Recovery.”


STEVE EMBER: Country music star Taylor Swift announced she is giving five hundred thousand dollars to help victims of the flooding. She made the announcement May sixth during a local television program to raise money for flood relief. That effort raised almost two million dollars.

Taylor Swift said: "Nashville is my home, and the reason why I get to do what I love. I have always been proud to be a Nashvillian, but especially now, seeing the love that runs through this city when there are people in crisis.”


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Our program was written by Shelley Gollust. Caty Weaver was our producer. I'm Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are at You can also post comments on our website and on our Facebook page at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.