If you love the blues, come see the land where it was born. Mississippi is known as the “Birthplace of America’s Music,” thanks to the critical role musicians in our state played in the development and spread of blues music and the other forms of music that evolved from it, including rock ‘n’ roll in all its forms, or were influenced by it, such as R&B, gospel, and country music. Watch the videos below to wander the history of blues music in Mississippi.
Download the Otocast mobile app for an audio tour of Mississippi Blues Trail sites narrated by Scott Barretta, writer and researcher for the Mississippi Blues Trail and instructor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Mississippi.
The legendary blues singer and guitarist, B.B. King, first heard the blues in Kilmichael, Mississippi, where he was born. The young King observed sharecroppers singing as they worked in the field. He also heard the music from his uncle, “Big Jack” Bennett, who was a blues shouter, a singer capable of performing unamplified with a band. King was also influenced by the Reverend Archie Fair during this time.
Born Riley B. King in the rural Mississippi community of Berclair, B.B. King would grow up to become one of the world’s most prolific and respected blues performers. King spent his early years in the small town of Kilmichael, Mississippi, before moving to Indianola during his teen years. Today, the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, in Indianola, honors King’s music and legacy.
The Blue Front Cafe, located in Bentonia, Mississippi, is the oldest surviving juke joint in Mississippi. The cafe opened in 1948 under the ownership of Carey and Mary Holmes who provided food, drink and even haircuts to local residents and workers from the nearby Yazoo County cotton fields. In 1970, the couple’s son, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, took over operation of the cafe, where it remains a casual blues venue for blues-loving locals and visitors.
Although Bobby Rush was born in Louisiana and lived for 48 years in Chicago, he adopted Jackson, Mississippi, as his hometown in the early 1980s to rediscover his family’s roots. Dubbed “King of the Chitlin’ Circuit,” Rush fuses blues music with funk and soul sounds to create his own distinctive sound. Rush is a two-time Grammy award winner, Blues Hall of Fame member, and 14-time Blues Music Award winner.
Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett was born in White Station, Mississippi, a small unincorporated community just north of West Point. In his early teens, Burnett performed throughout the Mississippi Delta and learned from his mentor, Charley Patton, the “Father of the Delta Blues” before moving to Chicago, where he would become a pioneer in the electric blues style that developed in the late 1940s.
Bo Diddley (born Ellas Otha Bates McDaniel) is credited as being one of the key originators of rock ‘n’ roll music. While the McComb native’s unique syncopated rhythm was replicated by performers from Buddy Holly to U2, his music influence extended to Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and countless others. Diddley’s trademark instrument was his self-designed rectangular “Twang Machine” guitar.
McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, is one of the most influential songwriters and performers in blues history. While Waters always identified Rolling Fork, Mississippi as his birthplace, evidence suggests that he was actually born in the small rural community of Jug’s Corner. In the late 1940s throughout the 1950s, Muddy Waters helped develop Chicago’s electric blues style which paved the way for rock ‘n’ roll.
Muddy Waters spent much of his youth at Stovall Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he lived in a small cabin on its grounds. In 1943, Waters was recorded on the cabin’s front porch by Alan Lomax in his famous Smithsonian Institution field recordings. In the 1990s the cabin was taken around North America on a House of Blues tour before landing at its final resting spot, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale.
Robert Johnson was born on the northern outskirts of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in 1911 or 1912. Johnson would go on to become one of the most significant early blues artists, impacting generations of musicians from Eric Clapton to the Rolling Stones. Though Johnson only recorded 29 songs before died in 1938, his body of work is among the most influential in American music history.
Robert Johnson remains one of blues music’s most legendary figures due to the enduring myth that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his “supernatural” and suddenly developed guitar playing skills. His tragic death, on the eve of what would have been a breakout Carnegie Hall performance, no doubt added to the mystery of his life and death. Johnson is buried in the Little Zion Church cemetery in Greenwood, Mississippi.