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Tennessee quarter celebrates musical heritage

Printer-friendly versionTennesseans tired of handling other state's commemorative quarters will be able to pocket their own starting next week.

U.S. Treasury officials met with Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist in Nashville Monday to unveil the quarter, 16th in the U.S. Mint's 50 State Quarters Program.

Available for purchase starting at noon Jan. 22 and designed to honor the state's musical traditions, Tennessee's quarter features three musical instruments representing the three distinct musical styles with historical ties to each of Tennessee's three distinct regions.

A guitar represents Middle Tennessee's, especially Nashville's, connection with country music.

A fiddle, lying on top of a book of sheet music, symbolizes East Tennessee bluegrass.

A trumpet, signifying the blues commonly associated with Memphis, hovers above and between the guitar and fiddle.

Below the instruments and three stars – each also representing Tennessee's constitutionally recognized regions – is a banner that reads: “Musical Heritage.”

“From folk to blues to country and western, Tennessee musicians have made enduring contributions to our nation's musical heritage,” said Henrietta Holsman Fore, U.S. Mint director, at the quarter's debut at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“It is fitting that the Tennessee quarter honors the instruments, people and traditions that have so enriched American culture.”

Sundquist picked the design after the Tennessee Coin Commission reviewed more than 1,000 suggestions. The seven-member commission narrowed it to three, said commission spokeswoman Jennifer Hatten.

The two other ideas honored Sequoyah, the Cherokee Indian who invented the Cherokee alphabet, and Tennessee ratifying the Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.

The U.S. Mint developed designs for the three coins and submitted them to Sundquist, who chose the coin honoring the state's musical heritage.

Sundquist spokeswoman Alexia Levison said the governor chose the design because it does more than just remember the state's history.

“It's a living quarter,” she said, “it honors not just the past, but now and the future as well.”

Shawn Stookey, an art teacher at Lakeview Elementary in New Johnsonville in Middle Tennessee, suggested the winning concept after drawing up an idea for his students to work from for an assignment.

“I thought, ‘Hey, I need a week of art projects,'” he said in a phone interview, “so I used (the statewide design contest).”

His design was picked, Stookey said, because it best ties up Tennessee's diverse regions with one concept.
“The three regions are very distinct with their own geography and culture,” he said. “I tried to find something they all had common ground on.”

While the state's geography varies, it is music, Stookey decided, that is especially close to all Tennesseans.
Nashville's musical influence is well known, as it is home to the Grand Ole Opry and the base of most of the music industry's operations.

Some of the more influential East Tennessee musicians include Luttrell's Chet Atkins and Sevierville's Dolly Parton.

And though both were born in other states, W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues,” and Elvis Presley both called Memphis home and are closely associated with the city.

Aside from legendary artists, scores of today's top musical performers call Tennessee home.

“Music defines what we are as Tennesseans,” Stookey said. “This is who we are.”

The production of the 50 state quarters, which are being released in a 10-year span based on the order of the states' admittance to the Union, began with the Delaware quarter in 1999. The U.S. Mint estimates more than 125 million Americans are collecting the quarters.

Each quarter is produced for about 10 weeks. The quarters will not be reproduced after the 10-week period.

Thus far, the most-minted state quarter has been Virginia's, of which there are nearly 1.6 billion in circulation.

There should be about 800 million Tennessee quarters minted, U.S. Mint spokesman Michael White said. Coins are minted on demand, he said, and with the current economic slump, demand has been low.

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