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Nashville's Historic RCA Studio A to Be Sold

Building tenant Ben Folds writes heartfelt letter opposing sale

A view of the offices and studios of RCA Records.
Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images
June 25, 2014 1:34 PM ET

The Nashville building that houses RCA Studio A, one of the most historic, active studios in country music history, is being sold to a development company that specializes in residential properties.

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists: Chet Atkins

Even for longtime Nashville residents, it's easy to drive past the RCA Building. Tucked onto a Music Row street corner, the place looks fairly nondescript, a flourish-free combination of brick, stone and muted earth tones better suited for an office building than a world-class recording studio. For more than half a century, though, RCA has drawn hundreds of musicians through its doors — not because of what the exterior looks like, but what the interior sounds like.

And what does the RCA Building sound like? Spend a few hours flipping your radio dial from left to right, and you'll stumble across countless songs recorded inside the building's two studios. Constructed in 1964 by Chet Atkins, who was originally looking for a place to track string parts for Elvis Presley's gospel albums, Studio A became a destination for musicians on both sides of the country/pop divide. It attracted the old guard — Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap, Tony Bennett, the Beach Boys — as much as newcomers like Kacey Musgraves and Hunter Hayes, and its cavernous size allowed the songs to fully breathe. Ben Folds, who took over the studio's lease 12 years ago, even managed to fit the entire Nashville Symphony inside the room.

Studio B, on the other hand, played an immeasurable role in shaping the arc of old-school country music and early rock & roll. The Everly Brothers recorded "Cathy's Clown" and "All I Have to Do Is Dream" in the small, 57 year-old room. Presley tracked more than 250 songs there. Dolly Parton cut her vocals on "Jolene" in Studio B — then marched next door to mix the song at Studio A. Although Studio B closed in 1977 and later reopened as a popular tourist attraction, Studio A has remained in operation for half a century.

Once the impending sale goes through, though, Studio A may be converted into apartments. Studio B, which was donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, will be protected from any changes.

"Last week, on the day that would have been Chet Atkins' 90th birthday (June 20, 1924), my office received news that the historic RCA Building on Music Row is likely to be sold," Ben Folds wrote Tuesday afternoon in an open letter to Nashville.

Folds' long, impassioned letter is a call to arms for a city that is in danger of losing its landmarks to rapid development. While progress is healthy, any growth can be second-guessed if it comes at the expense of a city's history and character.

The sale of Studio A could also have long-term implications for companies like Bravo Development, the prospective buyer for the building.

"Ultimately, who will want to build new condos in an area that has no central community of ideas or creatives?" Folds wrote.

After a series of calm, level-headed arguments about the RCA Building's importance to the city and the genres its songs helped shape, Fold wrapped up his letter by inviting Tim Reynolds, Bravo's chief operator, to visit Studio A one more time before his company potentially swings the wrecking ball.

"Take a moment to stand in silence between the grand walls of RCA Studio A," Folds urged, "and feel the history and the echoes of the Nashville that changed the world."

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