Music

Granville Automatic's 'Ice Cream' Tells the Story of Nashville's First Black Business Owner [Premiere]

Alexandra Arielle

If Granville Automatic's Elizabeth Elkins and Vanessa Olivarez love anything more than songwriting, it's got to be warts-and-all deep dives into Nashville's history.

The duo, named after a company that made 19th century typewriters, cover both interests with two interconnected projects. Their first book with co-author Brian Allison, Hidden History of Music Row, comes out Aug. 31 from the History Press and features a forward by Kix Brooks. A companion EP, Tiny Televisions, will be released on Sept. 11.

Wide Open Country previews the EP today with "Ice Cream," a song inspired by Sarah Estell, Nashville's first African-American business owner.

Per a press release, Estell opened an ice cream shop at 39 Summer Street (now Fifth) downtown in 1855. She catered to the city's firemen, churches and political parties prior to the start of the Civil War in 1861 and certain records even indicate she legally owned her husband to prevent him from being sold into slavery.

"When we found out about Sarah's story, we were eager to tell it," Elkins explained. "But it was tough to figure out exactly how. Her life is both inspiring -  that, as both a woman and a freed African-American, she was able to operate a successful and popular business in the South prior to the Civil War - and heart-breaking. There are so many unanswered questions. Did she 'own' her husband to keep him safe? How was she treated by the politicians and church owners who so often had her cater their events? In the end, the song became mostly about how often things are never what they seem at first glance, and how those in power use those without it, even when something as 'happy' as ice cream is involved."

Additional song topics covered on the EP include the Trail of Tears ("Monsters in the Stars"), the death of an Opry star ("Opryland"), outlaw country ("Getaway Car"), a long-forgotten neighborhood near the state capitol ("Hell's Half Acre") and a '60s-era nursing home on 17th Avenue ("Tiny Televisions").

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Before forming Granville Automatic, Elkins performed with Farewell Angelina and wrote songs cut by Billy Currington and others. Olivarez competed on the second season of American Idol, sang for Farewell Angelina forerunner Mama's Blue Dress and, most fittingly, the Sugar Land, Texas native wrote songs for Sugarland.

As a duo, Elkins and Olivarez have educated listeners while entertaining them before. Prior release Radio Hymns follows other chapters of Nashville's lost history from the two wives of city founder Timothy Demonbreun to the day in 1974 that the Ryman Auditorium was saved from the wrecking ball.

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Granville Automatic's 'Ice Cream' Tells the Story of Nashville's First Black Business Owner [Premiere]