This article appears in Winter Boomers magazine.
Mississippi is where the first notes of the blues were born. Take a trip through the cotton-field-lined roads and follow the Blues Trail, gathering the sounds, songs and history of not only blues music but the beginnings of rhythm and blues and rock and roll.
Historic sites can be found all over the state, but one way to follow the trail is via U.S. Highway 61 from Memphis to New Orleans. Along the way travelers will find basic lodging, blues clubs and good ol’ down-home cookin’. The trail is fun and interesting to follow whether you are a blues aficionado or a casual music fan.
Start in Memphis, Tennessee, and enjoy time on Beale Street, a popular area for tourists and locals where the sweet sounds of music and the aroma of barbecue are in the air. Music is a huge part of Memphis, with everything Elvis, Graceland and more being big tourist attractions.
Heading south to Tunica, Mississippi, stop at the Gateway to the Blues Visitors Center and Museum to learn about music heritage, find interactive exhibits and have a chance to record a blues song — all inside a unique 1895 train station. Pick up a Blues Trail map while you’re here.
Don’t miss the historic Hollywood Café — a place where John Grisham was a regular and about which Marc Cohn sang in his hit “Walking in Memphis.” The café claims it invented the fried dill pickle. 1585 Old Commerce Road, Tunica Resorts.
Further south in Clarksdale, Mississippi, travelers can feel the rich music history. Two museums, The Rock and Blues Museum and the Delta Blues Museum, are must-see, offering visitors history and memorabilia — thousands of items on display and exhibits dedicated to the likes of Sam Cooke, Ike Turner, Bo Diddley and Elvis Presley. Delta Blues is at 1 Blues Alley and the Rock and Blues is at 113 E. Second St.
After the museum visit the Ground Zero Blues Club, of which Mississippi native and actor Morgan Freeman is part-owner. It is an authentic Delta blues experience. Clarksdale has been described for many years as “ground zero” for the blues, known as where it all began.
Veer onto U.S. 49 to Cleveland, Mississippi, an important stop on the trail. Visit Dockery Farms, a historic plantation with a cotton gin and several older buildings offering a history of the area. The blues tunes play as travelers look around. The stop gives travelers insight into the cotton industry years ago and the culture of the Mississippi Delta. Blues musicians from all over the world came to Cleveland to play.
A little further south, stop in Leland, Mississippi — blues chasers will find a place that had early and major influences on the music. The Highway 61 Blues Museum has great exhibits and memorabilia and, if you luck out, Pat Thomas will pick out a few tunes on his guitar. 400 N. Broad St.
Slightly east of Route 61 is Indianola, Mississippi, where a visit to the BB King Museum provides an experience like no other when it comes to exhibits, rare artifacts, films, computer interactives and, even, emotions. 400 Second St.
Mississippi offers Blues Trail visitors much to see and do. It is beneficial to locate the trail markers you want to visit beforehand at msbluestrail.org. Go to visitthedelta.com/ultimate-road-trips to receive information on where to stay and eat, and download a travel guide. Click on links for each community to find suggestions for travelers.