All Don Cusic ever wanted to do was live in Nashville.
The University of Maryland graduate loved writing and country music, making him an odd duck in the era of rock ’n’ roll. After a brief leave of absence from the university after what he called an “independent study on beer and girls,” Cusic graduated with a journalism degree in 1972 and started covering sports for The Enterprise in St. Mary’s County.
“I think I was born to be a writer,” Cusic said. “You know, you live in the Washington area and you get a good dose of news. I couldn’t imagine at that point writing a book — that was way beyond me — but I could do newspaper articles.”
Cusic’s journalism career helped him realize his dream. He moved to Nashville to write for a trade magazine before becoming a professor of music at Fisk University. Spending time in academia spurred him to research and write more than 30 books. His most recent offering, Nashville Sound: An Illustrated Timeline, was published in October.
Described as a “coffee-table book,” with a hardcover and vibrant photographs, Nashville Sound is a history of Nashville’s world-famous music scene including country, gospel and blues. The book is a way for people to learn how the city came to be associated with the music industry, Cusic said.
“That’s the question you always get: ‘How did [Nashville] become Music City USA?’” Cusic said. “Everything seems to be somehow connected to the music business, Nashville or something like that.”
Cusic didn’t intend on writing a 232-page comprehensive history of Nashville and its music. The author described his writing process as a winding road with paths diverging, always leading him to other research — and even more content.
“I was aware of all of this stuff for years, just nobody had ever put it all down,” Cusic said. “I just jumped in full force and just wrote as much as I could. They wanted 60,000 words, and I gave them 120,000. I just wrote like crazy.”
A longtime fan of country music, Cusic knows that it isn’t the most popular genre, especially in more urban areas or north of Tennessee. While attending this university, he played in a country music band on weekends, earning the reputation for being the “country music guy” in an age when rock bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were all the rage.
Country music fans at this university, like Allie Carney, can appreciate Cusic’s less-than-mainstream music tastes. Carney, a junior criminology and criminal justice and Spanish major, said country music is underappreciated because people don’t give it enough of a chance.
“[Country music] is stereotyped that it’s a redneck thing, or all twang,” she said. “A lot of people think they’re above it or that it’s all hillbillies. It’s a lot of profiling.”
Carney said Cusic’s book could be helpful for both herself and those unfamiliar with country music.
“I think it could be good for other people to learn about country music, but it would be hard,” she said. “People not into country probably wouldn’t read it, but if it shows pictures it could show people the fans and the variety offered from different genres.”
Brandon Redmond, a junior criminology and criminal justice major, said he has never read a book like Cusic’s where music and culture are intertwined, but that it would be useful for people to learn about views they aren’t familiar with, especially for the culture around country music.
“People should learn a lot about other things they don’t have experience in,” Redmond said. “I’m taking an American studies class, and there’s a lot of diverse issues we read about in articles. It’s good to read about those and things like this to see other perspectives, even if you don’t agree with them.”
Regardless of people’s music tastes, Cusic still hopes that his book can pique readers’ curiosity by highlighting the history of the city he always wanted to live in.
“It’s local music with a national impact,” Cusic said. “The people profiled in the book are from all over the country.”