Long before the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, gospel, and country music captured the attention of audiences around the world, the future of America’s music was taking shape in Mississippi. The blues, which originated in the Mississippi Delta, would go on to influence modern popular music across a wide range of genres. Come explore some of our most unique music attractions.
Clarksdale is best known among music fans as the “birthplace of the blues” and the city where Robert Johnson, according to a popular legend, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for supernatural guitar playing talent. While the story is fictional, it has nonetheless captured the imagination of blues fans around the world. Travelers often come to take a photo near “The Crossroads” sign that marks the spot (one of them, anyway) where this exchange is said to have taken place.
Dockery Farms is one of the specific sites most often singled out as the “birthplace of the blues.” The former cotton plantation and saw mill was established by Will Dockery in 1895 just outside of Cleveland, Mississippi. At its peak, Dockery supported more than 2,000 workers and their families, among them Charley Patton an influential figure regarded as the “Father of the Delta Blues.” Other legendary performers drawn to Dockery include Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. The property and its eight original buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Established in 1979, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale is the state’s oldest music museum. Permanent exhibits include the core section of a cabin where Muddy Waters lived while working at Stovall Farms; a “Muddywood” guitar made from salvaged wood from the cabin that was donated by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top; guitars that belonged to John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and Big Joe Williams; and a piano, shoes, harmonica, and other memorabilia from Charlie Musselwhite.
Ground Zero Blues Club was established by Mississippi actor, Morgan Freeman, and other partners as a venue for preserving the music legacy of Clarksdale, a town which has produced more legendary blues performers than any other place on earth – Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke, Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, WC Handy, and Ike Turner, just to name a few. Ground Zero Blues Club was voted #1 blues club in the nation by BestBluesClub.org and ranked as one of the world’s top-three best live music clubs by the American Airlines publication Celebrated Living magazine.
When it opened in 2016, GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi was the first GRAMMY Museum to be built outside of Los Angeles. The Cleveland, Mississippi, museum’s displays and interactive exhibits highlight numerous Mississippi GRAMMY winners – and the musical artists they’ve influenced – including many blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and country legends. Look for information about traveling exhibits and live performances on their website.
The world-famous “King of the Blues” B.B. King lived in Indianola for many years and never forgot the Mississippi city, returning annually for almost 35 years to perform for free at his B.B. King Homecoming Festival. Today, the bluesman’s legacy is preserved at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center which explores King’s life from his humble beginnings to his eventual success on the global stage as a 15-time GRAMMY winner and multi-platinum recording artist. Several of King’s guitars are displayed, as are his Grammys and even a recreation of his home studio.
Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and lived there with his parents in a modest two-room “shotgun house.” Today, the Elvis Presley Birthplace complex offers visitors a glimpse into Presley’s early years and his ongoing legacy at the birthplace complex which also includes his childhood church, and a museum and events center. Statues throughout the complex document Presley’s rise from an ordinary boy to a global sensation, one of the most popular musical performers of all time.
On January 8, 1946, Gladys Presley made a purchase at Tupelo Hardware that would change the course of history. She purchased a guitar for $6.95 to give to her son Elvis on his eleventh birthday. By some accounts he really wanted either a rifle or a bicycle instead. But the young boy quickly became proficient at his instrument and would ultimately take the world by storm with his unique blend of blues, gospel and country influences. The Tupelo Hardware Company is still in business today, and it still offers affordable guitars for sale.
Though he lived only 35 years, Jimmie Rodgers had an immeasurable impact on the formation and development of country music, earning him widely accepted recognition as the “Father of Country Music.” The Jimmie Rodgers museum, located in Rodgers’ hometown of Meridian, displays his original guitar and other memorabilia of his life and career. The museum’s collection also includes railroad equipment from the era of steam-engine travel, reflecting Rodgers’ work as a rail worker and his nickname “The Singing Brakeman.”
The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, aka “The MAX,” offers visitors an entertaining and interactive experience that showcases Mississippi’s cultural legacy and seeks to inspire a new generation of artists through its exhibits and programs. The centerpiece of the museum is the MAX’s Hall of Fame rotunda which recognizes world-famous musicians, actors, and media personalities, visual artists, authors, and entertainment legends who trace their roots to Mississippi. Be sure to check out their calendar before you visit, as The MAX hosts regular events, including opportunities to see noteworthy speakers and musical acts.
Although digital music sales have long since eclipsed traditional formats including record albums and cassette tapes, new generations of listeners – and some old-timers, too – are discovering that there’s nothing quite like flipping through a stack of records and taking a physical recording home to play. At music stores like The End of All Music (in Jackson and Oxford), Offbeat (also in Jackson), and Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art (Clarksdale), you can discover new music from Mississippi music artists, past and present.
Mississippi’s newest country music attraction is Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The legendary performer and five-time Grammy winner is developing a 50,000-square-foot campus featuring a performing arts center, now open in the newly renovated Ellis Theater. A world-class country music museum is also in development that, when completed, will be stocked with items from Stuart’s personal collection, one of the world’s largest private collections of country music artifacts and memorabilia.