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Suiting the Sound | The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Online Exhibition on Rodeo Tailors

Stage Directions • Theatre Buzz • May 25, 2021

Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Bright, explores the artistry of Western-wear designers who helped create the indelible “rhinestone cowboy” image.

The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum unveiled a new, free-to-access online exhibition: Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter. This multimedia exhibit is the first designed exclusively for the museum’s website. We at Stage Directions thought that theatrical costume designers could draw inspiration from this online exhibition as well as prop artisans, set dressers, and others looking for design inspiration from country and western music.

“As a national history museum and global cultural institution, we are charged to consistently expand access to the museum’s collection and the interpretive work of our curators and historians, while advancing the documentation and preservation of American musical history,” said museum CEO Kyle Young. “These online exhibitions, made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, enabled the museum to create this novel exhibit platform. With it, we are not only able to reshare the story of the artists and musicians who helped to broaden Nashville’s reputation as a true Music City, but also to tell a new story, that of the clothiers who created unmistakable designs that are now synonymous with country music.”

Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter
Curated specifically for an online audience, Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter draws from the museum’s exhibit galleries and permanent collection to explore the artistry of Western-wear designers, often known as “rodeo tailors,” whose couture designs helped to create the indelible “rhinestone cowboy” image for country music.

The exhibition examines the emergence of this unique look in the 1940s and 1950s, largely from the tailor shops of Eastern European Jewish immigrants – who carved a successful niche for themselves by embracing America’s fascination with cowboy culture and Western imagery. Viewers will learn how the creative vision of the early designers – including “Rodeo Ben” Lichtenstein, Nathan Turk, and Nudie Cohn, who were all Eastern European Jewish immigrants – endures today, especially through Cohn’s former apprentices Manuel Cuevas and Jaime Castaneda, each of whom moved from Mexico to Los Angeles.

The exhibit also looks at today’s contemporary clothiers – including Union Western’s Jerry Atwood, Fort Lonesome’s Kathie Sever, and “Katy K” Kattelman – who continue to draw both inspiration from Cohn, Turk, Lichtenstein, and Cuevas’s expressions of cowboy style. Today’s designers’ modern spins on classic Nudie suits and vintage stage costumes have been spotted on a wide range of recording artists including Charley Crockett, Jenny Lewis, Post Malone, Midland, Margo Price, and Lil Nas X. The exhibit includes detailed color photographs of stage wear, tools of the trade, and historical photographs and video.

Artifacts include:

  • Rodeo Ben designed this shirt for Schuyler “Sky” Snow of Jerry & Sky.

    A two-tone, wool gabardine outfit, embellished with chain-stitch embroidered flowers, contoured yoke, scalloped shotgun cuffs, whipcord piping and “V” smile pockets with arrowhead stitching, designed by Rodeo Ben for singer and guitarist Schuyler “Sky” Snow of the duo Jerry & Sky

  • A three-piece cowgirl costume designed by Nathan Turk for Rose Maddox, lead singer in her family band, the Maddox Brothers & Rose
  • Country Music Hall of Fame member Hank Thompson’s boots, featuring a fantastical scene commemorating his career-launching 1948 hit “Humpty Dumpty Heart,” created by Nudie Cohn’s master embroiderer Viola Grae
  • A Manuel jacket, with fleur-de-lys embroidery and rhinestones, designed for Roseanne Cash
  • A Cohn-inspired cowgirl costume worn by Country Music Hall of Fame member Patsy Cline, designed and sewed by her mother, Hilda Hensley
  • A face covering decorated with rhinestones and appliqué, created by Union Western’s Atwood in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Further information from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum: www.countrymusichalloffame.org

Nudie Cohn’s Rodeo Tailors designed this suit worn by western swing vocalist Tex Williams.

Nathan Turk designed this stage costume for Don Maddox of the Maddox Brothers & Rose.

 

 

 

 

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