Mike Curb purchased RCA Studio B, Nashville’s oldest surviving recording studio, from the Country Music Hall of Fame with a commitment to restore the vintage facility as a working analog studio to be jointly operated by the Hall of Fame and Belmont University for educational purposes.
The sale, completed Wednesday (Jan. 23), was announced by Curb and representatives of Belmont and the Hall of Fame during a press conference at the studio Thursday (Jan. 24). “This is a beautiful facility for education and I just hope that [the] gift will make it possible for this to remain forever as an educational facility that can be used [by] students,” Curb said.
The studio was built on Music Row in 1957 and has become known as “The Home of a Thousand Hits.” Chet Atkins managed RCA’s Nashville operation and produced hundreds of hits in Studio B. Along with Owen Bradley ’s studio, the RCA studio was the birthplace of the smooth country-pop “Nashville Sound” of the late ‘50s and ‘60s.
Elvis Presley recorded most of his work on the RCA label in Studio B and his all-night sessions are part of the famous studio’s lore. Jim Reeves , Don Gibson , Dolly Parton , Eddy Arnold , Bobby Bare , the Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings , Willie Nelson and others also recorded classic sides at Studio B. Gillian Welch and a handful of other musicians have recorded there in recent years.
The Mike Curb Family Foundation — a non-profit educational foundation created by the founder and chief of Curb Records — bought the studio for $650,000. The Hall of Fame operated the studio as a tourist attraction from 1977 until 1998, when the museum and studio were in close proximity. The Hall of Fame closed the studio to the public as the museum prepared for its recent move to downtown Nashville.
Curb plans to reinstall Studio B’s vintage ‘50s analog recording equipment, some of which is in the museum’s collection, and return both the interior and exterior to their look during the glory days when Atkins ran the studio.
“As we planned the move from Music Row to our new building,” Hall of Fame director Kyle Young said, “we were determined to preserve this vital part of our city’s history and to find a new life for it as a resource for the entire community. We looked at various partners who might enable us to assure that the studio would be here forever and who might allow us to reopen and revitalize it.”
The Curb Foundation has committed to lease the space back to the Hall of Fame in perpetuity at $1 per year. The Hall of Fame will use money from the sale to split staffing costs with Belmont to co-manage and co-operate the recording facility.
Belmont and the Hall of Fame have been beneficiaries of the Curb Foundation before. The museum’s conservatory was named after Curb after he donated $1 million to help fund the new building. Belmont, a private university located on the edge of Music Row, named its recording industry program The Curb School of Music Business when Curb made a large donation to the college in the mid-‘90s.
“In a studio like this you had to really learn how to be a producer,” Curb said. “I think it’s important to students to have that experience, as well as being able to use the new technology. … It’s kind of like learning to drive on a stick shift and then [using] an automatic transmission.”
The studio is expected to be ready for use by fall, with the Hall of Fame and Belmont still developing educational programs for students of all ages. Belmont students will use the studio as a learning lab and lead tours for local elementary, middle and high school students.
Operating specifics still are being hammered out, but the partners promise to also make the studio available to college students who do not attend Belmont. Curb said he would like to see the Fisk Jubilee Singers –- the legendary black gospel group from Nashville’s Fisk University — record at the facility.
Curb, the Hall of Fame and Belmont are looking for other ways to make the studio available to the community. Young, for instance, said he would consider using his staff of country music experts to give visitors guided tours of the studio.