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Harmonizing Hattie: The Trailblazing Tale of Nashville's Transformative 'Tootsie'

Updated: Jan 31

Tootsie Bess working behind the bar.
'Tootsie' Bess

Welcome to the Music City, where the music never dies and the honky-tonks never close. Here in Nashville, Tennessee, we have fantastic musicians and many famous landmarks to visit, but have you ever heard of Hattie 'Tootsie' Bess? She may not have been a singer, but she played a significant role in Nashville's development as a city, and her presence is still felt today. As a local resident who loves her city, let me tell you about the contributions Hattie 'Tootsie' Bess made to Nashville.

Hattie Bess "Tootsie" was born in 1913 in Tennessee. As a young woman, she moved to Nashville and began working as a waitress in the Davis Cafe. The cafe was known for its customers who were songwriters, singers, and entertainers. Tootsie was a lively and outgoing person who loved meeting new people and making connections. She befriended many of the customers and became a respected figure in the music community. When the Davis Cafe closed in 1960, Tootsie was determined to find a way to continue making a living and to stay connected to the music industry she loved. She rented a small storefront on Lower Broadway, bought a liquor license, and transformed the space into a place where musicians could come to play their music and network. The bar quickly became a popular hangout spot for music stars and emerging songwriters.

The World Famous Tootsie's
The World Famous Tootsie's

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, as she named her bar, was the beginning of Nashville's famous Lower Broadway honky-tonk scene. Soon, other businesses saw the potential for profit and began opening their own honky-tonks on the street. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge was one of the only honky-tonks that was open 24/7 in the early days of the Lower Broadway boom. It became a place where musicians could go to play their music at any time of day or night and make connections with others in the industry. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge was a melting pot for music genres and styles, and it remains one of Nashville's most iconic landmarks today.

As Tootsie's Orchid Lounge grew in popularity, so did Nashville's tourism industry. More and more people came to Music City to experience the honky-tonk scene and live music culture. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge played a significant role in making Nashville a destination for music lovers. Tootsie herself also became a beloved figure in the Nashville community. She was known for her generosity and kindness to musicians who were struggling, and she often loaned money to people in need. She was selfless and dedicated to the music industry. It's said that Tootsie's Orchid Lounge never turned away a musician who wanted to play, even if they were a complete unknown.

The Purple Tootsie's Sign
The Purple Tootsie's Sign

Today, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge remains one of Nashville's most popular destinations. It's still a place where emerging songwriters and established musicians can come to play their music and make connections. The bar is decorated with photographs and memorabilia from the past, including autographed pictures of famous musicians who played there. Visitors can grab a drink and listen to live music, including performances by up-and-coming artists and established stars. They can also take a tour of the historic honky-tonk and learn about Tootsie's impact on Nashville's music scene.

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