If you’re interested in American music history, you should know more about the Mississippi Blues Trail. After all, much of the development of the contemporary music you listen to can be traced to the blues. Take for instance, jazz and rock and roll, which are extensions of the blues. That’s not to mention R&B and hip hop, which obviously have musical influences deriving from the blues.
With that in mind, some of the earliest forms of this important music genre come from Mississippi’s Delta region. Because of this, the Mississippi Blues Trail was created to point out historical spots that led to the development of this American music genre. The following are just 10 recommendations for you to consider visiting. Indeed, it’s great time to visit, especially in observance of Black History Month, weather permitting.
About The Mississippi Blues Trail
The Mississippi Blues Trail was created to promote tourism in 2006 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. Covering about 170 miles, the trail features over 200 blue signs that mark important spots in blues music history . However, it’s not a straight path and instead covers a much broader area. While most of these markers are in Mississippi, particularly in the Delta region, some are found outside of the Magnolia State. For complete details, please visit the Mississippi Blues Trail official website.
Washington Street and Jackson Street
Vicksburg, MS 3180
Stretching 1,400 miles along the Mississippi River through Louisiana, Mississippi and as far north as Minnesota, Highway 61 is a music icon. Not only is it known as the Great River Road, it’s better known by music lovers as the Blues Highway. That’s because a stretch of Highway 61 passes through the Mississippi Delta region, the birthplace of the Delta blues genre. In other words, this is where blues evolved to become an important American music genre.
Early Days of the Blues
Back then it was known as 61 Highway and now features several important spots leading to the development of blues music. In addition, many prominent songs were written about the blues highway. This includes Robert Johnson’s Cross Road Blues” and Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”. Equally important is that many famous blues musicians were born near or along the Blues Highway. For example, Elmore James, Willie Dixon, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf are Mississippi Delta natives.
Birthplace of the Blues?
229 Mississippi State Route 8 and Lusk Road
Cleveland, MS 38232
While there isn’t enough evidence on a specific birthplace, historians point to two spots. For one, Clarksdale, Mississippi describes itself as the “Birthplace of the Blues”. In fact, the city has a host of important historical sites with a blues connection. Therefore, it’s hard to argue against that claim. Although this may be true, the Blues Trail Commission cites Dockery Farms, 42 miles south of Clarksdale.
About Dockery Farms
A former cotton plantation and sawmill, Dockery Farm employed several early blues musicians over the years. Among them were Charley Patton known as the “Father of the Delta Blues”. Not long after, other well-known musicians came to Dockery, like Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson. The Dockery Plantation is so important to blues music and African American history, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you must choose among the many stops along the Mississippi Blues Trail, make sure to include the Crossroads in Clarksdale. That refers to the intersection of Highway 61 and 322/North State Street. According to legend, it’s at the Crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his sold to the Devil in order become a famous musician.
Legendary Blues Musician
Robert Johnson is among the most important blue musicians to come out of the Mississippi Delta region. For example, some of his most famous songs have been recorded by several big name acts. Among his best known compositions are “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”, “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Ramblin’ On My Mind”. Even further, he also wrote “Love In Vain Blues”, “Kind Hearted Woman” and “Cross Road Blues”. Better known as “Crossroads”, his song became an icon when the rock band Cream recorded a live version in 1968. As a result, that live version is regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
Delta Blues Museum
1 Blues Alley
Clarksdale, MS 38614
While Crossroads gets plenty of attention from travelers, the most popular attraction is the Delta Blues Museum. As a matter of fact, it’s the state’s oldest music museum and the first of its kind in the world. Occupying the historic Clarksdale train station, it’s home to a permanent collection of Delta blues memorabilia, music instruments and more. In more detail, you enjoy rare guitars from John Lee Hooker and B.B. King and the Muddy Waters exhibit. In addition to the permanent collection, are ongoing temporary exhibitions. Unfortunately, according to museum information, you are not able to take photos inside the museum.
Elvis Presley & the Blues
Elvis Presley Birthplace
306 Elvis Presley Drive
Tupelo, MS 38801
For fans of Elvis Presley, Graceland in Memphis is the most popular spot to visit. However, a drive down to his birthplace is also worth your time. After all, the King of Rock and Roll was heavily influenced by listening to the blues while growing up in Tupelo. What’s more, his 1954 debut single “That’s All Right” is a blues song by Clarksdale singer Arthur Crudup. The Elvis Presley & the Blues marker sits in front of his birthplace home. A top local draw, you can tour the inside of the home as well as see other attractions. For instance, you’ll be able to see sculptures of Elvis, childhood photos and memorabilia.
The Blues Trail: From Mississippi to Memphis
Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
191 Beale St.
Memphis, TN 38103
One of the most notable Mississippi Blues Trail markers outside of Mississippi is in Memphis. After all, its where Mississippi native Elvis Presley became a music icon and helped popularize rock and roll. In addition, the city’s lively Beale Street is where many early Mississippi blues musicians came to perform. That’s not to mention Sun Studios, where Elvis got his start. Furthermore, it was the 1951 setting for the first rock and roll record, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats.
Birthplace of Rock and Roll
Because of this, Sun Studios became known as the Birthplace of Rock and Roll although Cleveland argues against that claim. Either way, there is so much more to Memphis, which also calls itself the Home of the Blues. During your visit, you can see Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum and Stax Soul Museum. Of course, you’ll want to see the Mississippi to Memphis trail marker in front of the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. Although not as well-known as other Memphis attractions, the Rock “n” Soul Museum is a hidden treasure
Mississippi To Louisiana
Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame
218 Louisiana Ave.
Ferriday, LA 71334
The Mississippi to Louisiana Blues Trail marker is in front of the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame. Just a 20-minute drive from Natchez, the marker reflects the close musical relationship Mississippi and Louisiana. On the front of the marker, it mentions Will Haney’s Big House, a club where local musicians performed. This includes local musicians like Leon “Pee Wee” Whitaker, Hezekiah Early and Y.Z. Early. The marker also mentions Ferriday native Jerry Lee Lewis, who often came to listen to blues music.
Visit the Delta Music Hall of Fame
Inside the Delta Music Museum, you can see even more rare guitars and Delta Blues memorabilia. In addition, you can see the museum’s Hall of Fame recipients outside the entrance. The layout resembles the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with stars and photos of famous music artists. Among the members of this Hall of Fame are ’60s R&B singer Percy Sledge and pianist/singer Fats Domino.
Natchez Museum of African American History & Culture
301 Main St.
Natchez, MS 39120
The picture you see isn’t where the Natchez Burning marker is on the Mississippi Blues Trail. On the other hand, this is where a fire broke out on April 23, 1940. The Natchez Burning refers to the fire that killed 201 people at the Rhythm Night Club. That terrible event is one of the worst tragedies in American history. On that evening, over 700 people came to see bandleader Walter Barnes and his Royal Creolians. A fire is said to have started around 11 p.m., but the band continued to play to avoid a stampede. Sadly, Walter Barnes, a popular jazz clarinetist and saxophonist, died in the fire, along with nine other band members. The Mississippi Blues Trail marker is in front of the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture.
Site of the Rhythm Club
5 St. Catherine St.
Natchez, MS 3120
You can see the former site of the Rhythm Night Club just a half mile from the museum. In its place is the Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum, honoring the victims and survivors of that tragedy. Not far away is the Forks of the Road Historical Site at 232 St. Catherine Street.
W.C. Handy Birthplace
620 W. College St.
Florence AL 35630
William Christopher Handy is not nearly as famous as other early blues musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson. On the other hand, if you’re familiar with the history of the blues, you’re familiar with his important contributions. In fact, his first hit “The Memphis Blues” in 1912 is considered to be the first recorded blues song. That song and another early hit “St. Louis Blues” helped increase the popularity in the blues music genre. Because of this, W.C. Handy is known as the “Father of the Blues”. The Mississippi Blues Trail in Florence marks the home where he was born in 1873.
Willie Dixon Way on South Street
Vicksburg, MS 39180
If you love the blues, you most definitely know Willie Dixon. Even if his name isn’t familiar, chances are that you’ve heard some of his most famous songs. That is, of course, if you’ve listened to Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Otis Rush, Koko Taylor and Muddy Waters. What’s more, rock bands like The Doors, Cream, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones have made remakes. In case you’re still not familiar, listen to “Back Door Man”, “Bring it on Home”, “Little Red Rooster” and “Spoonful”.
Born in Vicksburg, Willie Dixon is such a prolific Chicago blues songwriter, he’s known as the “Poet Laureate of the Blues”. Stop by the corner of Willie Dixon Way and 600 South Street in Vicksburg. In all, there are six Mississippi Blues Trail markers in Vicksburg.
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About The Author
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget, NBC.com, NJ.com and Radio.com. He earned a Media Fellowship from Stanford University in 2012.