It is only fitting that Tennessee has ten official state songs, since the state is widely known for its contributions to popular music, particularly country music. Its centrally located capital and largest city, Nashville - home to the Grand Ole Opry at Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Music City Center and the Opryland amusement park - is aptly nicknamed “Music City USA.” That’s no stretch considering the fact that it’s home to roughly 180 recording studios, 130 music publishers, 100 live music clubs and 80 record labels.
A few hours to the west, near the Arkansas border, Memphis claims an impressive musical heritage of its own. Long before Elvis Presley made Graceland a favorite destination for rock ‘n roll pilgrimages, Memphis had Beale Street, home of the blues. Made famous by African American musical pioneers like W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and B.B. King, among others, Beale Street is now a national historic landmark. Finally, let’s not forget Dollywood, the Appalachian theme park opened by Dolly Parton in Pigeon Forge, near Knoxville in East Tennessee. It continues to expand, with its new DreamMore Resort opening in 2015.
A stronghold of conservative Christianity, Tennessee is home base to several Protestant denominations, including the United Methodist Church and Southern Baptist Convention, as well a number of Christian colleges, giving Nashville another nickname: “Buckle of the Bible Belt.” Just south of Nashville is Dayton, location of the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, where a local school teacher was prosecuted for violating a state law banning the teaching of evolution. The Butler Act, Tennessee's anti-evolution law, was not repealed until the 1960s.
During the Great Depression, when Appalachia faced severe economic hardship, a New Deal agency called the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) constructed hydroelectric dams on the Tennessee River, and later coal and nuclear power plants, which ultimately produced enough power to supply more than nine million customers today. Based in Knoxville, TVA is the nation's largest public power utility, and its mission has expanded to include economic development and environmental management in seven Southern states from Virginia to Mississippi.
Plentiful electricity supplied by TVA allowed the federal government to establish an atomic weapons plant in Oak Ridge, east of Knoxville, recruiting researchers in the 1940s to work on the Manhattan Project. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, now managed by a Department of Energy subcontractor, currently employs more than 4,300 scientists and engineers. Not surprisingly, in a community with so many highly educated residents, the public schools in the town of Oak Ridge are considered some of the best in the U.S.
Tennessee's modern economy relies heavily on automobile manufacturing and associated suppliers and services. In 2015, the Volunteer State was ranked first in the U.S for production of automobiles by Business Facilities, a spot that it held from 2010-2013 as well. Tennessee is home to major assembly plants for Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen as well as over 900 auto suppliers, including Hankook Tires, Bridgestone Americas, Magneti Marelli and Yanfeng Automotive Interiors. All told, there are more than 118,000 automotive workers at operations that span 88 of the state’s 95 counties, making for the greatest concentration of auto-related jobs in the South.
Yet the auto industry isn’t the only big business around. In 2015, Tennessee was home to 11 Fortune 500 companies, including FedEx, AutoZone, International Paper, Eastman Chemical, Tractor Supply, Dollar General, Community Health Systems and Hospital Corp. of America (HCA Holdings), the nation's largest operator of private for-profit hospitals. Tourism is also playing an increasingly important economic role, thanks to over 13 million visitors helping to set a new record of more than $17 billion in economic impact in 2014. Approximately 30% of tourism spending was concentrated in Nashville, while tourism overall was responsible for 57,400 jobs.
With more than 6.5 million residents, Tennessee is the 17th most populous state in the country and the 22nd fastest growing, with a population growth rate of roughly 4% between 2010 and 2015. 78% of Tennesseans are white, 16% are black, 4% are Hispanic, 1% are Asian and 1% are multiracial. As of early 2016, the median household income statewide was $44,298 – nearly $10,000 below the U.S. median – with approximately 17% of the population living below the poverty line. The fourth most Protestant state in the country after Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, Tennessee is approximately 76% Protestant, according to Gallup polls.
Real estate prices in Tennessee are generally low by national standards – as of early 2016, the statewide median home value was $148,894, roughly $35,000 less than the U.S. median. However, the situation is pricier in Nashville, the cultural darling with a metro area population of over 1.7 million. Here the median home value was $192,110 within the city limits. Even higher are affluent Nashville suburbs like Franklin ($357,940), Oak Hill ($504,481) and Brentwood ($611,764). In contrast, Memphis, the second largest city, had a median home value of just $99,417. The third largest city, Knoxville was also more affordable with a median home value of $119,222.