Vicksburg to Memphis
US-61 US-82 > US-49 > US-61
Traveling the backroads of the Mississippi Delta can feel like a rootsy American homecoming, and it can also feel like visiting another country—sometimes in the same moment. It’s been called “the most Southern place on earth,” with a complex and fascinating history as rich as its soil. Following the Mighty Mississippi along legendary Highway 61 toward Clarksdale, the unofficial capital of the blues, you’ll become intimately acquainted with the area’s perfectly authentic, gritty vibe. After all, this is the region where bluesman Robert Johnson traded his soul for his talent; where the Civil Rights movement took hold; where the sons of sharecroppers rose to international stardom; and where the Delta Blues sound was born from church songs, back alleys and cotton fields, and went on to inspire the genesis of rock and roll. Many of the sites and stories on this leg of the Gold Record Road are told through the Mississippi Blues Trail, an incredible resource for preserving and promoting the history of the blues long after the physical buildings and landmarks have crumbled or been razed in the name of progress. In this day and age, blues history isn’t tied to specific addresses—it’s about breathing in the thick air of the Delta, watching the Mississippi carve its way through the basin, standing on a railroad track at a country crossroads and soaking up the cotton-covered rural landscape. It’s about finding yourself in a juke joint in a rural town and understanding segregation, hardship, beauty and strength in a new way. Welcome to the Delta Highway.
Take a 175-mile side trip to Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the historic Louisiana Hayride, the famed Opry-style radio program that broadcast American music—and introduced a young Elvis Presley—overseas. Folk blues legend Leadbelly, guitar hero James Burton and blues guitar slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd are just a few of the music greats that were born and raised here. Check the Shreveport CVB for information, attractions, lodging and more.
You’ll pass through Monroe, Louisiana on your way. Catch a show at Enoch’s Irish Pub or Moonlake Marina, enjoy award-winning cuisine at Restaurant Cotton, and stop by Willie’s Duck Diner or the Duck Commander Headquarters to get a taste of the town that the Robertson Family of Duck Dynasty fame calls home. Find more information from the Monroe/ West Monroe CVB.
From Shreveport, continue west about 325 miles to Austin, Texas, a laid-back music mecca that draws thousands of visitors every year to experience the rich music and dance tradition anchored there. Catch a taping of Austin City Limits or check out the SXSW festival for current acts and legendary performances; visit the Broken Spoke to get a taste of the Texas dance hall tradition or check out another iconic anchor of the city’s legendary music scene. Explore the city a bit and you’ll find music just about everywhere you go, with 250 live music venues and counting. Visit the Austin CVB for tips on what to do, where to stay and what to eat—the city has built quite a culinary reputation as well.
Soul-food restaurant by day, blues bar by night: Make a point to be at this humble restaurant near the waterfront for a blues jam every Tuesday. The Central Mississippi Blues Society provides a veteran-heavy house band featuring King Edward, Pat Brown and Abdul Rasheed every second and fourth Tuesday. (Try the chitterlings).
1111 Mulberry St., Vicksburg. 601-636-9838
In the 1920s and 30s, Vicksburg was teeming with jazz and blues clubs, including the Blue Room, Bell’s Cafe, Zach Lewis’s, South Side Park Dance Hall, Cotton Club, the El Morocco, Delia’s Do Drop Inn, the Opeh House, Big Will’s, the Red Dot Inn and the Melody Lounge.
Catfish Row Art Park and Floodwall Murals
In 1935, David Cohn wrote that the Mississippi Delta “begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.” Though not in its original location (thought to be approximately where the Ameristar Casino presently sits), today’s Catfish Row features artwork by children and adults, including a mural of Willie Dixon playing the legendary Blue Room plus a series of murals that tell the city’s history.
Downtown on Levee Street, Vicksburg. 601-636-3411
In 1969, British rock band Led Zeppelin released “Led Zeppelin II,” a breakthrough rock record partially recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis and influenced heavily by Delta Blues artists. The lyrics to one of the songs on the album, “Whole Lotta Love,” bear a striking resemblance to “You Need Love” a 1962 song recorded by Muddy Waters for Chess Records and written by bluesman Willie Dixon, a Vicksburg native and an anchor of the Chicago blues scene. Dixon sued Led Zeppelin in 1985 and was awarded a settlement out of court. Through the years, Willie Dixon’s songs have been covered by everyone from Howlin’ Wolf to Tom Petty. Find a list of his admirers here.
Mississippi Blues Trail
Even if you don’t seek out every marker, the points of interest descriptions linked below are crucial in telling the story of the Delta Blues. You’ll find five Blues Trail markers in Vicksburg, including:
The Blue Room – former site of one of the most storied nightspots in the South
Highway 61 South – the legendary route connecting Memphis, St. Louis and St. Paul.
Marcus Bottom – the historic African-American community and center of blues, jazz and gospel music in the 1920s and 30s
Red Tops – an influential Vicksburg-based blues/ jazz/ pop group that performed from the 1950s to the ’70s
Willie Dixon – marking the birthplace of the legendary musician known as the “poet laureate of the blues”
Check out these sites, festivals, shops and online resources for Vicksburg, and make sure you catch a show at a local venue while you’re in town.
Visit the Bottleneck Blues Bar at Ameristar Casino on a weekend night when the Vicksburg Heritage League and Vicksburg Blues Society host free blues shows by national artists. You can also catch live blues at Walnut Hills every Friday and Saturday while you dine at the Roundtable Restaurant.
Get your jazz on every spring when Alcorn State University holds its Jazz Festival in Vicksburg or listen to all music genres at Vicksburg’s premier outdoor festival—RiverFest Music and Arts Festival.
The Cat Head music calendar will be your go-to resource for live music, festivals and events in Clarksdale and throughout the Delta. Like them on Facebook for updates, upcoming shows and more.
Vicksburg is best known for its Civil War history, but it also helped to shape blues and jazz as we know it. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, more African-Americans lived in Vicksburg than any other spot in the state; the city was a thriving river town that brought people into and out of its port daily. Different styles of blues music mixed and melded here, as amateur and professional musicians came through town and often played in the clubs of the Marcus Bottom neighborhood.
You simply can’t pass through Vicksburg without exploring its rich Civil War history at the Vicksburg National Military Park. This incredible national treasure marks the site of the Siege of Vicksburg, a grueling 47-day battle in the summer of 1863. It was not only the turning point for the Union, but what happened here is considered to be one of the most brilliant military moves of the war. In addition to 16 miles of tour road in this national park, you’ll find monuments, museums, interpretive sites and more.
Be sure to stop by the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation Auditorium where you can check out where a scene from O Brother Where Art Thou? was filmed. Stand on the stage where the Soggy Bottom Boys performed during the “Homer Stokes Hoedown”.
Visit Poverty Point, one of the most important archaeological sites in North America, just outside of Vicksburg in Pioneer, Louisiana. These prehistoric earthworks consist of a complex system of earthen mounds and ridges overlooking the Mississippi River floodplain. Experts believe that the six C-shaped rows served as foundations for dwellings; the site is dated between 1700 and 1100 B.C. and spans more than 400 acres. Tour this World Heritage Site, National Historic Landmark and Smithsonian affiliate, visit the on-site interpretive museum or take a tram tour March-October.
Get a taste of antebellum and Civil War history at Anchuca Mansion and Inn. It survived the Siege of Vicksburg, and was used for a time as a hospital for soldiers; its porch was also the site of one of Jefferson Davis’ final public addresses to the people of Vicksburg.
Grab a plate at Goldie’s Trail Bar-B-Que, a Vicksburg favorite since 1960, Check out The Tomato Place, a roadside fruit stand that serves fresh fruit smoothies, the best BLT’s and an authentic Mississippi Delta vibe. Or visit one of Vicksburg’s newest restaurants, T’Beaux’s Blues Le Roux for live music on the patio on weekends and some amazing Memphis barbecue meets New Orleans Cajun cuisine.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
Along the Way:
You’re traveling on the Mississippi Delta portion of Highway 61, the legendary 1,400-mile-long route connecting New Orleans with the city of Wyoming, Minnesota. A designated part of the Great River Road, Highway 61 follows the Mississippi’s path, and is rich in musical legend and lore. This is the road that built the blues, connecting the lives and talents of early players as they traveled from town to town and the genre began to increase in popularity. It’s also the route that eventually carried the blues out of the Delta and into the Northern states in the Great Migration, as mechanized cotton harvesting forced African-American workers to relocate their lives—and their music—to the northern states in search of work. Their sounds would not only become a uniquely American genre, it would also lay the foundation for rock and roll.
Highway 61 Blues Museum
This local museum is a must-see, detailing the rich blues history of the area through events and musicians from within a 100 miles of tiny Leland. That might seem like a small radius, but nearly 150 nationally and internationally known blues artists have come from the area—see memorabilia from Little Milton, B.B. King, Charley Patton, Willie Foster, James “Son” Thomas, Eddie Cusic, Boogaloo Ames and more.
307 N. Broad, Leland. 622-686-7646
Leland Blues Murals
This small Mississippi town celebrates its blues heritage with larger-than-life murals downtown, painted by volunteer artists and featuring great musicians born in or near Leland. One mural even depicts Delta Dancing at the long-gone Lillo’s restaurant, the legendary spot where Abie Boogaloo Ames would rock the house with his boogie woogie, blues and swing sounds.
Downtown at 4th and Main; 3rd and Main; Main near 3rd; and Deer Creek Road between Main and North Broad streets.
James Son Thomas’s Grave
This blues legend, gravedigger and sculptor—he specialized in clay skulls—is buried in Bogue Cemetery, right in front of Greater St. Matthew M.B. Church in Leland. Thomas died in 1993. A new headstone, a gift from John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame, was placed on his grave in 1996.
364 Old Tribbett Rd., Leland.
Mississippi Blues Trail
You’ll find four Blues Trail markers in Leland:
James “Son” Thomas, famous blues musician and sculptor
Highway 10 & 61, a significant intersection and railroad stop for blues performers working for tips
Johnny Winter, guitar icon
Ruby’s Nite Spot, one of the most prominent blues clubs in the 1950s and ’60s
This small agricultural community has produced many blues artists, some more famous than others. Blues musician Johnny Winter’s father was the mayor of this town in the 1930s. Today, it’s a great example of a current rural community in the Delta and home to the Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum, where you’ll find memorabilia and fun photo opportunities in Jim Henson’s hometown.
This list for Leland represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Washington County Tourism website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local Tourism Board is the best source for current information.
B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
Don’t miss this state-of-the-art cultural attraction honoring the heritage of the Mississippi Delta, and exploring the life and music of one of its most famous sons, B.B. King.
400 2nd St., Indianola. 662-887-9539
In the 1950s and ’60s, this street was the center of African-American life in Indianola. Today, you’ll find just a few restaurants and liquor stores, but there was a time when these streets hosted a young B.B. King sneaking a listen to Louis Jordan, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Sonny Boy WIlliamson II and others in the clubs that lined the street. King started his career here, playing on a street corner with his hat out for change. Find commemorative footprints, handprints and King’s signature on the east side of Church south of Second Street.
Church and 2nd streets, Indianola.
This famous nightclub has welcomed patrons here since 1945, and was once owned by B.B. King’s former mother-in-law and then B.B. King himself. It’s hosted blues greats such as Count Basie, Ray Charles, James Brown, Ike Turner, Little Milton, Willie Clayton and Howlin’ Wolf; for many years, King returned annually to play a show during the B.B. King Homecoming Festival. The stage still draws national acts and visitors from around the globe, and is now owned by the B.B. King Museum.
404 Hannah Ave., Indianola. 601-887-9915
308 Blues Club
Stop for a drink, a meal and a soul full of live blues at this popular blues club adjacent to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.
308 Depot Ave., Indianola. 662-887-7800.
Mississippi Blues Trail
Even if you don’t seek out every marker, the points of interest descriptions linked below are crucial in telling the story of the Delta Blues. You’ll find five Blues Trail markers in Indianola:
Albert King, King of the Blues Guitar
Birthplace of B.B. King, celebrated blues musician and Indianola native
Church Street, once a thriving anchor of Indianola’s African-American community
Club Ebony, one of the South’s most important African-American nightclubs
Charley Patton’s Grave, in nearby Holly Ridge, marks the final resting place of the Father of the Delta Blues
Check out these sites, festivals, shops and online resources for Indianola, and make sure you catch a show at a local venue while you’re in town.
Visit on the first Friday in June for a free outdoor blues concert lasting all afternoon. The B.B. King Homecoming Festival was born of hometown hero B.B. King’s desire to help support the community’s economy and is dedicated to the memory of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers; King came home for the event every year for more than three decades.
Indianola is a natural spot to start incorporating some of the events and shows of the Bridging the Blues Festival into your travel plans. This weeks-long event doesn’t have a lineup or schedule—it simply highlights a broad range of blues-related events, exhibits and celebrations in September and October across Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi with the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena as the main attraction.
Indianola is best known as B.B. King’s hometown, still near to his heart—several streets are named in his honor, including Lucille Street (named for his famous guitar). Like so many blues musicians, he spent his early years working cotton in the fields outside the town. It’s also the home of Albert King, aka “the Velvet Bulldozer,” and Henry Sloan, both major influences on the blues sound we know today. Thanks to the $14 million B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, the town is quite practiced at sharing its history and culture with tourists and visitors.
Take a walking tour of historic Indianola, starting from the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. Next door, you’ll find Gin Mill Galleries, a good stop for live weekend entertainment, artwork, gifts and even lunch in this restored 1920s cotton gin.
Grab a bite at The Blue Biscuit, a colorful juke joint and restaurant across the street from the B.B. King Museum. Make plans to stay the night at the Blue Biscuit Bungalows for comfortable, eclectic accommodations within walking distance of Indianola’s sights and attractions. And, of course, they have a festival of their own too.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Indianola Tourism Association website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local Tourism Association is the best source for current information.
Robert Johnson Grave Mystery
This area is central to the story of blues legend Robert Johnson, said to have come by his incredible musical talent by selling his soul to the devil. He’s known worldwide as one of the best guitarists of all time, and as a major influence on rock and roll. He was supposedly poisoned by a jealous husband in a Greenwood juke joint and died just north of town at the age of 27. His death certificate says he was buried at Zion Church near Greenwood … but which one? Visit all three of his grave markers and decide for yourself.
Bobbie Gentry’s hit song, “Ode to Billie Joe,” raises more questions than it answers, centered around its main character jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge. The story is fictional; the original bridge in Money, Mississippi, collapsed in a fire in the 1970s, but true fans of the song still seek out the spot and/or pose for a quick photo in front of the Tallahatchie Bridge sign in Greenwood.
Mississippi Blues Trail
Even if you don’t seek out every marker, the points of interest descriptions linked below are crucial in telling the story of the Delta Blues. You’ll find seven Blues Trail markers in Greenwood:
Baptist Town, the African-American neighborhood that Robert Johnson and Honeyboy Edwards called home
Elks Hart Lodge, one of the most important Delta Blues venues in the 1950s and ’60s
Furry Lewis, one of the first Delta Blues musicians to record in Chicago
Guitar Slim, Greenwood native and energetic blues performer
Hubert Sumlin, blues guitarist chosen as “one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” by Rolling Stone
Robert Johnson Gravesite, one of the sites thought to be his final resting place
WGRM, a radio station that aired B.B. King’s first live broadcast in 1940, as part of a gospel group
Mississippi Country Music Trail
Shaped heavily by the rhythms and sounds of the Delta, country music grew from the same roots that fed the blues. You’ll find one Country Music Trail marker in Greenwood:
Bobbie Gentry, one of the most influential female country artists of the 1960s and ’70s
This classic Delta city is full of music history, as well as a current cultural claim to fame—the 2012 film The Help was filmed here, using Greenwood’s landscape and architecture to depict picture-perfect Southern life, rough rural living, and the stark differences between blacks and whites in Civil Rights-era Mississippi. The city has a complex Civil Rights past as the site of many conflicts over voter integration and other issues in the 1960s.
Reserve a luxurious stay at the Alluvian Hotel, a cosmopolitan boutique hotel tucked into the unassuming Mississippi Delta. Among its many accolades, it’s been included in the Conde Nast Gold List consistently since 2009 and named one of the Best Hotels in the World by Conde Nast; it’s also received the AAA 4-Diamond award every year since 2006. While you’re here, make sure to dine at Giardina’s or even book a Culinary Weekend at the Viking Cooking School. It’s all a part of the Alluvian experience.
Book a night (or a week or a month) at Tallahatchie Flats, a collection of sharecropper-style shacks and cabins on an authentic Delta cotton plantation. You’ll be right on the banks of the Tallahatchie River, very close to the place where Robert Johnson is said to have died.
Grab lunch or coffee and spend some time exploring Turnrow Books, a local independent bookstore specializing in Southern culture, literature and lore—and a great source for music history in the Delta.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Greenwood Convention & Visitors Bureau website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
Visit the spot where it’s said to have all started … you can’t come to Cleveland without stopping for at least a photo of the birthplace of the Blues. Call ahead or connect via email with Executive Director Bill Lester to arrange a tour. The Dockery Plantation operates as a nonprofit foundation, and donations to support their mission are always appreciated.
255 Mississippi 8, Cleveland. 662-719-1048.
Understanding the story of Dockery Plantation is key to understanding the story of the Delta Blues, and while we’re not here to give you long-winded explanations, we can’t let this one go without a little background:
In the late 1800s, Will Dockery bought this former swampland to farm timber; later, he had it drained in order to use its fertile soil to produce cotton, which drew African-American workers from all over the region. Dockery was good to his people—a workforce made up of itinerant workers and sharecroppers who lived, socialized and made a life on the 10,000-acre plantation. The farm grew to be 2,000 workers strong, with its own closed economy and thriving African-American culture. At its height, Dockery was essentially its own town with a railroad terminal, school, church and general store, currency and, of course, juke joints. Though not much of a blues fan, Will Dockery respected his workers’ leisure time and made it easy for people—and musicians—to get on and off his land. Dockery Farms soon became a center for African-American music and entertainment, and a central location for Sunflower County’s large black population to gather. Charley Patton, known as the “Father of the Delta Blues,” lived and worked at Dockery on and off for 30 years; like many before and after him, it was here that he first heard other residents playing guitars introduced into the culture by Mexican workers in the plantation’s early days. This is where Patton learned to play from his friends and mentors, and where he went on to influence other residents—notably Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson and Roebuck “Pops” Staples—establishing what we now know as the Delta Blues. When Will’s son Joe Rice Dockery inherited the plantation in the 1930s, mechanized cotton picking was just becoming a reality in the South. The practice gained traction through the 1940s, and transformed the industry and its need for human labor; the resident culture dwindled as the Great Migration was now fully underway. Thousands of African-American workers—the Delta’s own musicians among them—moved north and west to cities like New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles in search of work, taking the blues to new audiences everywhere they went. Eight of the plantation’s original buildings still stand, and the historic site (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) is open to the public.
Before Chuck Berry or Jimi Hendrix became guitar stunt legends, there was Charley Patton. His wild performance antics—playing behind his back, down on his knees and behind his head—earned him a reputation for over-the-top showmanship through the 1920s. Howlin’ Wolf is quoted as saying, “When he (Patton) played his guitar, he would turn it over backwards and forwards, and throw it around over his shoulders, between his legs, throw it up in the sky.”
W.C. Handy’s Enlightenment
Stand on the very site where Florence, Alabama, native and Clarksdale bandleader W.C. Handy was forever changed by the blues in 1905. Handy’s band was performing at a party at the Bolivar County Courthouse in Cleveland, and when the white guests requested that he play some “native music,” he played a traditional Southern number. The guests, unsatisfied, insisted that a few black performers from the outskirts of town take the stage for a few songs, and the crowd went wild, showering the ragged trio with money—more than Handy’s band generated that night. What Handy saw and heard forever altered his own musical career and the entire blues genre as he recognized the way people responded to the sound. He would later move to Beale Street in Memphis and pen the first published blues song, “Memphis Blues.”
Bolivar County Courthouse,204 N. Pearman Ave., Cleveland. 662-846-5881
The Bolivar Courthouse party wasn’t the first time W.C. Handy had encountered what he described as the “music of the cane rows and levee camps.” He first heard the Delta Blues being played with a knife and guitar while waiting for a train in 1903 at the Tutwiler Depot, which is now marked on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
Cast of Blues / Delta State University
See more than 50 sculptural life masks of blues performers, cast directly from their faces, at Ewing Hall at Delta State. Performers include Bo Diddley, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, Robert Lockwood and others. This incredible piece of art was created by blind sculptor Sharon McConnell and was donated to the University for permanent display. Delta State is also home to the region’s acclaimed entertainment industry studies program, featuring state-of-the-art recording studios.
Delta State University, 1003 W. Sunflower Rd., Cleveland. 662-846-4579
GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi
Dive deeper into American music history at the only official GRAMMY Museum outside of Los Angeles. Like its sister museum in California, this 27,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art attraction explores the past, present and future of music with a spotlight on the musicians, songwriters and producers of the Delta. Get a true sense of Mississippi’s overwhelming impact on American music through dynamic exhibits, interactive presentations and public events.
Delta State University, Cleveland.
Known as one of the last rural juke joints in Mississippi, Po’ Monkey’s was a one-room music house in the middle of a cotton field just outside the small town of Merigold, Mississippi. This folklore favorite was pure Delta magic, drawing students from Delta State, locals from the surrounding community, and tourists (including Anthony Bourdain and Annie Leibovitz) from all over the world to one of the poorest counties in the country. Po’ Monkeys was operated by Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry from 1963 until his death in 2016. Today, it remains empty with an uncertain future.
Mississippi Blues Trail
Even if you don’t seek out every marker, the points of interest descriptions linked below are crucial in telling the story of the Delta Blues. You’ll find five Blues Trail markers in Cleveland:
Chrisman Street, the African-American center of culture and commerce during segregation
Po’ Monkey’s, the last authentic rural juke joint (see above)
W.C. Handy’s Enlightenment, (described above), marking the spot where he realized the value and marketability of the blues
Alligator Blues, detailing the music and legends in the tiny community of Alligator
*Take the backroads to discover these and 10 other Blues Trail markers in the area on the Blues and More Driving Tour.
A lively college town, Cleveland is home to Delta State University, home of the famous—though unofficial—mascot, the Fighting Okra. (The logo is worth a T-shirt stop for sure). The town has been recognized as one of the “100 Best Small Towns in America” and one of the “Top 20 Small Towns” by Smithsonian magazine—thanks to its arts scene, shopping, and visitor-friendly vibe.
Grab a bite at the Airport Grocery. Tip: It’s neither an airport nor a grocery, but it is the spot where Willie Foster recorded “Live at Airport Grocery.” For authentic soul food, try The Country Platter in Cleveland, a local establishment with a deep Civil Rights past.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Cleveland-Tourism website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local Tourism Association is the best source for current information.
Along the Way:
For anyone who loves blues history, a stop at Parchman Farm between Cleveland and Clarksdale is a must. This former work camp-turned-state penitentiary saw Son House, Bukka White, R. L. Burnside, John “Big Bad Smitty” Smith, Terry “Big T” Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Vernon Presley (Elvis Presley’s father) for stints as inmates. It’s also where folklorists Alan and John Lomax found and recorded a wealth of traditional music from the closed culture of the prison—the prisoners had no access to radio, records or current music, and sang traditional work songs as they labored. The extremely hard life on Parchman Farm inspired many blues tunes, including songs by Bukka White, Charley Patton, Wade Walton and Mose Allison. Learn more about Parchman Farm from its Mississippi Blues Trail marker.
If you make it to just one blues-soaked city on the Delta Highway route, make it Clarksdale. The depth of history and variety of authentic blues experiences is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Cat Head Store
Make this your first stop in Clarksdale, without question. If you’re after something related to the Mississippi Blues—from recorded music and concert posters to souvenirs and folk art, this is the place. This one-of-a-kind shop is a Clarksdale staple, and the absolute best source for what’s going on and where. Think of this shop and its online presence as your ambassador to Clarksdale, and your unofficial guide to the area. Whatever isn’t listed on the Gold Record Road for this area is definitely available at Cat Head.
252 Delta Ave., Clarksdale. 662-624-5992
Ground Zero Blues Club
Unwind at this modern juke joint—it’s a great place to catch a meal and some live music by local artists. Established to promote, preserve and continue the region’s deep blues heritage, the club has been named one of the “top 100 bars and nightclubs in America.” It’s co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman and current Clarksdale mayor Bill Luckett Jr.
252 Delta Ave., Clarksdale. 662-621-9009
Red’s Blues Club
This authentic juke joint is a must-see, housed in the former LaVene Music Center building. The owner, Red, is a local legend and tourist favorite, and the unassuming establishment has become an unofficial meeting spot for blues travelers from around the globe. (You’ll know it by the rusted grills out front.)
395 Sunflower Ave., Clarksdale. 662-667-3166
Delta Blues Museum
Explore the blues through memorabilia and more at the state’s oldest (and many will argue, best) music museum, including permanent exhibits such as Muddy Waters’ childhood cabin and guitars played by the greats. Five thousand square feet of blues exploration await you here.
1 Blues Alley, Clarksdale. 662-627-6820
Folklorist Alan Lomax found himself in Stovall, Mississippi, with a trunk full of recording equipment in the summer of 1941, on assignment from the Library of Congress to collect recordings of country blues music in the Delta. He recorded future blues legend Muddy Waters at home in his cabin at Stovall Plantation, leaving the artist with a pressed record that would change his life—and the blues as we know it—forever. Hearing his own voice played back and realizing the quality of the performance gave Waters a glimpse of things to come; Lomax recorded Muddy again the next summer, and both sessions were eventually released with the title “Down on Stovall’s Plantation” on the Testament label in 1966.
Rock & Blues Museum
Explore the blues, R&B, rockabilly, and rock and roll through memorabilia from the 1920s through the ’70s, including LP album covers, autographs, photos, concert posters and antique instruments—even Wade Walton’s barber chair and sink counter. It’s also the home of the 2nd Street Blues Party every fall, planned to coincide with the famous King Biscuit Blues Festival in nearby Helena.
113 E. 2nd St., Clarksdale. 901-605-8662
Robert Johnson Crossroads
Where Highway 49 intersects with Highway 61 might not look like much of an attraction, but this is the fabled spot where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his unexplainable guitar talent. This infamous “sale” has been debated for decades, but both skeptics and wholehearted believers agree on one thing: It’s one of the greatest stories in blues history. Today, you’ll find a sign marking the spot on the Blues Highway—it’s a must-see, even if it’s just for the photo opp. (And while you’re there, get a taste of the world-famous sauce at Abe’s BBQ.)
This famous spot, still in operation as a hotel, has housed countless blues musicians since its opening in 1944. Ike Turner wrote and rehearsed his song “Rocket 88” while living here; Robert Nighthawk left his suitcase in his room here just before he died. Before it was a hotel, this was the G.T. Thomas Hospital for blacks, where Bessie Smith died following a car accident in 1937. The hotel’s proprietor, Frank “Rat” Ratcliff was beloved by many and passed away in 2013; watch him give a tour of the hotel here.
615 Sunflower Ave., Clarksdale. 662-624-9163
Mississippi Blues Trail
Even if you don’t seek out every marker, the points of interest descriptions linked below are crucial in telling the story of the Delta Blues. You’ll find 11 Blues Trail markers in Clarksdale:
The Delta Blues Museum, the world’s first museum dedicated to the Blues
The Hopson Planting Company, the first plantation to produce entirely mechanized cotton (leading to the “great migration” of African-Americans to the North)
Ike Turner, Clarksdale native and famous music figure
Muddy Waters’ Cabin, marking the site of the famous Alan Lomax field recordings
Pinetop Perkins (in nearby Belzoni), revered blues pianist
Riverside Hotel, famous stopover for traveling musicians and site of Bessie Smith’s death
Sam Cooke, Clarksdale native and soul music pioneer
Sunflower Rhythm & Blues Festival, a long-standing Clarksdale tradition
The New World, a neighborhood rich in jazz, blues and ragtime heritage
Wade Walton, talented blues musician, local barber, and pillar of the African-American community in Clarksdale
WROX, Clarksdale’s first radio station
The Sweet Home Chicago marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail stands at the location of Central Train Station in Chicago, Illinois, where African-Americans arrived carrying the seeds of the Delta Blues to the “promised land” of the North during the Great Migration. Now-famous Maxwell Street and the Maxwell Street Market became the center of African-American music imported from the South: jazz, gospel and, most importantly, the blues. When Southern blues artists played for crowds in the bustling open-air market, they found they needed electric instruments and amplifiers to be heard over the din; they plugged in, started playing and the Chicago Blues emerged.
Check out these sites, festivals, shops and online resources for Clarksdale, and make sure you catch a show at a local venue while you’re in town.
Find live music and a true blues experience that’s local-approved. Check the events calendar and local guide from Cat Head, the directory of clubs and entertainment from Blues Hound Flat. Like them on Facebook for updates, upcoming shows and all things Delta too.
Clarksdale is a city that truly celebrates its blues heritage—often by taking to the streets for a day or two of live music, good food and great entertainment. Plan your trip around one of the city’s many local festivals and experience the blues in a whole new way, from the Juke Joint Festival in the spring to the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming Festival and Sunflower Blues & Gospel Festival in the summer to the Delta Buskers Festival in the fall—and many more in between.
Tune in to WROX 1450-AM/107.5 FM for classic soul, R&B and blues. This historic radio station was the first to broadcast from Clarksdale; Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Nighthawk were all disc jockeys there.
Clarksdale is a true Southern gem, overflowing with blues culture and heritage, and eager to share it with the world … in its own way. In fact, this spot is a favorite for international travelers from all over the globe with one thing in common: a love for the blues. While the town is famous for welcoming its visitors with open arms, this Delta city also has its fair share of Southern grit— perfect for savvy travelers looking for an authentic, unvarnished cultural experience.
For a taste of Delta life, spend a few nights in a renovated sharecropper’s cabin at the absolutely legendary Shack Up Inn and its Juke Joint Chapel Bar; or stay in an eco-friendly renovated shack across the street at Shacksdale USA.
Get the complete Delta Blues experience at the Hopson Plantation’s commissary, which hasn’t changed much in 50 years. Hopson was the first plantation to harvest a cotton crop completely by machine—as other large-scale farms followed suit, the African-American sharecroppers and farmworkers moved north in search of work, bringing the Delta Blues traditions with them to urban areas like St. Louis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Inside the commissary, you’ll find antiques and memorabilia that will take you back in time. Tours by appointment; drop in anytime to hear the blues, stay the night, or grab a drink and a bite to eat at happy hour.
Some of Clarksdale’s best lodging options aren’t hotels, but something even better: daily apartment and loft rentals. Stay at the surprisingly posh and contemporary Lofts at the Five and Dime night at the Delta Bohemian Guest House or Blues Hound Flat, both renovated residences for rent near downtown—and within walking distance of some of Clarksdale’s best attractions.
Check out Yazoo Pass for a laid-back meal and a relaxed, living-room vibe. It’s a great spot right in the middle of downtown’s action.
Looking for a cool place to rest and recharge? Try a private guest apartment in the heart of the Downtown Historic District. Delta Digs, the Hooker Hotel and the Squeeze Box are all decorated in true Delta style by local artisans and promise a unique lodging experience.
Take a step back in time to the era of the general store at Miss Del’s, where you’ll find everything from gourmet nuts and fancy chocolates to feed, seed and garden supplies.
Visit Seven Chimneys Farm for a relaxed Delta farm experience. It’s also a center for cultural arts education, with classes and workshops too. Make reservations to stay in one of the well-appointed shacks or even an airstream trailer on the property—truly a one-of-a-kind lodging experience.
Mississippi River by Canoe
Adventurous visitors should plan an extra day for a trip down Old Man River with Quapaw Canoe Company, and let the knowledgeable guides give you a crash course in the River’s role as the Delta’s backbone. You’ll learn about Native American life all the way up through Muddy Waters’ 25 years at Stovall Plantation, a shuttle stop along the way.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Coahoma County Convention & Visitors Bureau website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
Oxford’s music legacy is closely tied to the Hill Country Blues, a distinctive style heavy on steady, driving rhythm and percussion, often incorporating fife and drum elements. Mississippi Fred McDowell was a Hill Country Blues pioneer, influencing artists like R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and others; artists like Othar Turner, Rosa Lee Hill and more helped to further define the sound. The Hill Country Blues are preserved and promoted by Oxford’s own Fat Possum Records, an independent record label founded to record and promote unknown blues artists from North Mississippi.
Mississippi Fred McDowell wrote “You Gotta Move,” a song made famous by the Rolling Stones on their 1971 “Sticky Fingers” album; the song, along with “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, a stop on the Nashville to Muscle Shoals driving trail.
Oxford is a vibrant college town with a thriving music scene. Pick a venue, discover a record store or find a festival to enjoy the town’s unique culture—it’s one that draws a special mix of local artists and national acts. While you’re here, check out Oxford’s oldest venue, the now-restored Lyric Oxford, which was once used as a livery stable by author William Faulkner’s family in the early 20th century.
Head to Off Square Books any Thursday night at 6 p.m. during the fall and spring to catch the Thacker Mountain Radio Show, a live weekly radio broadcast featuring author readings and musical performances. Past performers have included Marty Stuart, Del McCoury, Elvis Costello, T-Model Ford and others. The show is broadcast live on 92.1 Rebel Radio and rebroadcast Saturday nights on Mississippi Public Radio.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Mississippi state officials tried to keep African-American student James Meredith from enrolling in classes, despite being admitted to the school by a federal court. President John F. Kennedy ordered U.S. Marshals to protect Meredith, and he registered for classes in 1962 under armed guard. Violent riots broke out across campus protesting his admittance. Bob Dylan’s song “Oxford Town,” on his album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” was inspired by the event.
Many black R&B artists from the Muscle Shoals area of Alabama got their start there during that time, playing fraternity parties at Pi Kappa Alpha house on campus. In fact, the social chairman who brought them there, Tommy Couch and his partner Gerald “Wolf” Stephenson, would go on to form Malaco Attractions in Jackson, Mississippi, which later evolved into Malaco Records—a stop on the Cradle of the Kings section of the Gold Record Road.
Visit Rowan Oak, home of William Faulkner and his family for more than four decades, just off the Oxford square. The Nobel Prize Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner is considered one of the most important figures in Southern literature and American literature in general.
Check out the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi, one of the largest collections of blues recordings, publications and memorabilia in the world. You’ll also find two Mississippi Blues Trail markers in Oxford:
Oxford Blues, detailing the town’s music legacy
Documenting the Blues, honoring the University’s preservation efforts
For more on dining, lodging, entertainment and history, explore this one-of-a-kind Southern college town with the help of the local CVB.
Delta Cultural Center
Explore the history and culture of the Arkansas Delta, including the incredible Delta Sounds exhibit on the Delta Blues and Helena’s place in music history. The Cultural Center is also home to the longest-running daily blues show in the U.S.: King Biscuit Time, on the air since 1941 with a worldwide audience and a long, long list of awards. Its host, Sonny Payne, has been hosting the show since the early 1950s; he broadcasts from a special booth in the Delta Sounds Room. The weekly Delta Sounds Radio Show is also broadcast from here, featuring Arkansas Delta music: blues, gospel, rockabilly and country. Both are broadcast locally on KFFA-AM 1360.
141 Cherry St., Helena. 800-358-0972
Many of history’s greatest blues artists have called Helena home at one time or another, including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Roosevelt Sykes, James Cotton, Honeyboy Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, Robert Nighthawk, Robert Lockwood Jr., Frank Frost, Jimmy McCracklin, George “Harmonica” Smith and the king of the Helena blues scene, harmonica player Rice Miller, aka Sonny Boy Williamson II. Helena also raised Levon Helm of The Band and Conway Twitty, a member of the Country Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.
Chicago-based blues artist John Lee Curtis (1914-1948), aka “Sonny Boy” Williamson I, was born in Jackson, Tennessee, and was the first to use the “Sonny Boy” name. In the early ’40s, Helena’s own Rice Miller (1912-1965), aka “Sonny Boy” Williamson II, adopted the name and began to use it on a regional basis. Tension over the right to “Sonny Boy” never escalated to legal action, as Sonny Boy I was killed in a robbery in 1948. From that point on, Miller was free to introduce himself to audiences around the world as Sonny Boy Williamson II, including recording with the Yardbirds, the band that launched the careers of guitar gods Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Both “Sonny Boys” were legendary American harmonica players and entertainers.
King Biscuit Blues Festival
This is the festival worth planning your visit around: If you can make your Delta Blues trip over Columbus Day weekend, you’ll be rewarded with this internationally renowned festival that draws tens of thousands of blues fans, historians and experts from around the world. It seems like every Delta community has its own festival leading up to the King Biscuit—Bridging the Blues is a great aggregator of the blues-centered events surrounding this one. Stop by the King Biscuit Blues Festival Office, featuring festival merchandise year-round.
319 Phillips Street. 870-572-5223
Bubba’s Blues Corner
Spend some time in this independent record store, featuring one of the best selections of hard-to-find blues music in the world. Bubba is a Helena fixture—both as the proprietor of the Blues Corner and as the historian for the Sonny Boy Blues Society, the organization behind the King Biscuit Blues Festival. People (including some very famous musicians) come from all over the world to hang out and talk music history. He’s always there—tell him we sent you.
105 Cherry St., Helena. 870-995-1326
Mississippi Blues Trail
Even if you don’t seek out every marker, the points of interest descriptions linked below are crucial in telling the story of the Delta Blues. You’ll find two Blues Trail markers in Helena:
Explore the Arkansas Delta Music Trail to discover other music heritage sites, festivals and more.
The best source for event listings and up-to-date festival information is the Helena-West Helena Tourism Commission’s online calendar.
Not too far from Clarksdale, Helena sits just over the Arkansas border and was a former center for gambling, music and nightlife in the late 1800s and early 1900s—drawing musicians and entertainers eager to perform for the rowdy patrons who came into town from the rural areas and off the steamboats. It continued as a musical and cultural hub through the 1960s, acting as a sister city to Clarksville’s blues action. The city fell on harder times in the 1970s, and is now in a period of regrowth, thanks in part to music tourism and its nationally known blues festival. Today, you’ll find Helena to be a small but friendly town with a big piece of living blues history and a major claim to fame: the King Biscuit Time blues radio show.
Admire the Victorian and antebellum homes, like the gorgeous Pillow-Thompson House, open for tours.
Book a room at the Edwardian Inn, a gorgeous turn-of-the-century inn that has been beautifully restored, down to the tiniest detail. The Inn’s website reads like an informative blog and is a great source for local information of all kinds.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Visit Helena-West Helena website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local Tourism Association is the best source for current information.
Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center
The Gateway to the Blues Visitors Center and Museum on Highway 61 is the first place many people see when they roll into Tunica. This rustic train depot, circa 1895, is a must-stop for travelers before and after a visit to Tunica. Inside, travel counselors are ready to give directions, advice and the latest information about events, restaurants and attractions. They can even help book you a hotel room, make dinner reservations or find you a perfect, one-of-a-kind souvenir in the gift store. The Visitors Center is home to the Gateway to the Blues Museum This must-see attraction for all music lovers, will tell the remarkable story of how The Blues was born and the role Tunica played in building the genre’s legacy. The museum is open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 1-5. Admission – $10 Adults, $5 Children.
13625 Highway 61 N, Tunica. 888-488-6422
Mississippi Blues Trail
Even if you don’t seek out every marker, the points of interest descriptions linked below are crucial in telling the story of the Delta Blues. You’ll find four Blues Trail markers in Tunica:
Hardface Clanton, gambling boss and figure in African-American and blues culture
Highway 61 North, infamous Blues Highway
James Cotton, blues harmonica legend
Son House, a major musical influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters
Hollywood Café, a Delta dining institution that has shared in the area’s musical history
Abbay & Leatherman, one of the oldest and largest cotton plantations in the Delta
With eight world-class casinos, Tunica draws national-level concerts and entertainment. Check the calendar on the CVB website for a current list of who’s in town.
Once a severely economically depressed area known as “Sugar Ditch Alley,” Tunica is now a thriving gaming center and resort region—the third largest in the U.S. Visitors come from all over the South to visit casinos, see live music and entertainment, and try their hand at games of chance.
Tunica has earned its reputation as a relaxed, fun getaway just outside of Memphis. Visit its many casinos and attractions while you’re here.
Visit the Tunica Museum for friendly local information and regional history.
Stop at the Blue and White Restaurant for great Southern Cooking—a Highway 61 fixture since 1924.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
Visit the hallowed ground of Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio, considered by many to be ground zero for American rock and roll. A self-taught producer, Phillips broke all the rules of music—blending segregated genres, coaxing groundbreaking performances from his artists and creating brand new sounds with the technology of the day. Elvis Presley’s first song was recorded right here, the same place that Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and so many more got their starts. Big stars like Tom Petty and Bonnie Raitt still record here from time to time. Take the tour—it’s been voted the #1 attraction in Memphis—and don’t leave without an iconic T-shirt from the gift shop.
706 Union Ave., Memphis. 800-441-6249
Elvis Presley’s Graceland
You can’t visit Memphis without paying homage to the King of Rock and Roll at Elvis Presley’s Graceland, arguably the most important, well preserved and professionally operated music landmark in the world. Tour Elvis’ home and estate to get a taste of the star’s private life, from the “Jungle Room” to the piano where he played the last two songs of his life (Unchained Melody and Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain). You’ll also see wall after wall of gold records, original film memorabilia, famous costumes and more as you tour several other buildings on the estate. You’ll also find plenty of tourist kitsch in the souvenir shops clustered around, not to mention excellent people-watching. Bring a Sharpie to sign your name on the stone wall around the grounds—this is one for the bucket list.
3734 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis. 901-332-3322
Elvis Presley’s music, specifically what was produced in the first part of his career, made an indelible mark on music going forward. His blend of blues and country sounds have influenced every artist that even came close to rock and roll—John Lennon of the Beatles famously said, “If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.”
Legendary Beale Street is home to three blocks of retail, restaurants and plenty of chances to hear blues, jazz, rock and gospel music. In the early 1900s, this was the undisputed center of African-American entertainment and commerce in the U.S., and also the spot where Albert King, Memphis Minnie, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, W.C. Handy, Rosco Gordon and other greats laid the foundation for today’s jazz and blues culture. This world-famous street has been through boom times and bust times, and is currently booming again—Beale has enjoyed a true renaissance in the past few decades as a prime visitor attraction and cultural asset, with its own blend of grit and polish that’s uniquely Memphis. The street is closed to vehicles from 2nd to 3rd Streets, so grab a cold beer, stroll down the street and join the party—and if you’re in the right place at the right time, kick off Memphis in May at the Beale Street Music Festival.
B.B. King’s original stage name was “Beale Street Blues Boy.”
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Explore this 17,000-square-foot museum on the original site of legendary studio Stax Records. Experience the story of American soul music from its humble beginnings to present-day stars through memorabilia, recordings, exhibits and videos, including artists like Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Booker T. and the MGs, James Brown, Sam Cooke, the Staple Singers and hundreds more. This is the only Soul music mseum in the world, and home to the Soulsville Foundation.
926 E McLemore Ave., Memphis. 901-942-7685
Rock N Soul Museum
Take a self-guided tour at this Smithsonian Museum project to explore the birth and rise of the “Memphis sound” through the artists and music that created it, from its sharecropping roots to its part in the African-American Civil Rights movement. This stop is a must for anyone interested in the collision of history, social issues and music.
191 Beale St. (FedEx Forum Plaza), Memphis. 901-205-2533
Travel Tip: Take advantage of the free shuttle between Graceland, Sun Studio and the Rock N Soul Museum.
When they lost everything during the Great Depression, Johnny Cash’s parents moved to the Dyess Colony, a 1930s WPA agricultural resettlement site, to become sharecroppers. The Arkansas State University has restored the historic site, including Cash’s boyhood home, in nearby Dyess, Arkansas. The extensive renovations were funded using proceeds from the annual Johnny Cash Music Festival, held every year in nearby Jonesboro. Dyess is located about 50 miles northwest of Memphis; visitors are welcome year-round and can find information at the Dyess Colony website. On the way to Dyess, you’ll pass through Wilson, Arkansas, a tiny town with a unique preservation story. Head downtown for a bite at the Wilson Cafe.
W.C. Handy Home & Museum
Visit the home of the “Father of the Blues,” moved to its Beale Street address from its original location in South Memphis. See photos, memorabilia and artifacts from Handy’s life and career, including the desk where he’s said to have written “Beale Street Blues.”
352 Beale St., Memphis. 901-527-3427
American Dream Safari
Want to really see Memphis? Tad Pierson is your guy. Since 1995, Tad has been taking visitors for private tours of the city in his 1955 Cadillac, showing off everything from Sun Studio to hidden juke joints, colorful neighborhoods and other sights not included in any tourism handbook. Tours are offered daily by reservation and last about three hours, accommodating up to five people for a flat fee. Catch Tad on a weekend for juke joint tours and crawl the most authentic spots in town.
Reservation line: 901-527-8870
Hop on the bus for a guided tour and an insider’s view of Memphis—including live music and storytelling onboard. It’s a fun “backstage pass” to the city’s music heritage, with several different themed tours available.
143 Beale St., Memphis. 901-572-9415
Gibson Guitar Retail Shop and Factory Tour
Get up close and personal with the legendary Luthiers of world-famous Gibson Guitars on this 45-minute guided tour. See how these legendary instruments are made, take a walk through the brand’s 100-year history and learn about Gibson’s influence on music all over the globe—particularly in the Americana Music Triangle. Reservations recommended.
145 Lt. George W. Lee Ave., Memphis. 901-544-7998, ext. 4075 for tours
A city the size of Memphis offers music at every turn. While we certainly can’t cover it all, we do want to make sure you catch a show at a local venue or experience a festival while you’re in town. Here are a few of our favorite sites, festivals, shops and online resources—start digging around here and you’re sure to find many, many more.
Experience the blues Memphis-style at the Blue Worm, CC’s Blues Club, Memphis Sounds Lounge or Earnestine & Hazel’s, just to name a few. This Guardian article covers some of the best authentic blues spots, or you can browse a full list of blues clubs and music venues on Memphis.com.
Visit the Saint Blues Guitar Workshop, famous for its handmade guitars and “Delta Blues Boxes,” electric guitars made from cigar boxes. You can also find signature handmade “LoweBow” cigar-box guitars at Xanadu Music and Books near Overton Park.
The Reverend Al Green’s church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle, is located in South Memphis. While the doors are open to all and visitors are always welcome, it’s not a tourist attraction—it’s a vibrant and energetic house of worship. Al Green isn’t always there to preach, but if he is, be prepared for a gospel experience you’ll never forget.
Every year the International Blues Challenge, a five-day music contest put on by the Blues Foundation, showcases winning blues acts from satellite contests all over the globe as they compete for the prestigious first place title. It’s the largest gathering of blues acts in the world, going strong for more than three decades.
If festivals are your thing, Memphis has one for the record books. Schedule your trip to Memphis around the Memphis in May International Festival kicked off each year with the Beale Street Music Festival.
The fascinating history of The Orpheum theater in downtown Memphis includes a strong vaudeville legacy, devastating fires, meticulous restoration and, today, national music acts, films and more. Catch a show here to experience the opulence of the 1920s.
The Mud Island Amphitheater is one of the best outdoor venues in the Southeast, sandwiched between breathtaking views of the Memphis skyline and the rolling Mississippi.
For a taste of the local music scene’s history and a great record store experience, make a stop at Shangri-La Records, a Memphis landmark since the late 1980s. You’ll also want to visit Goner Records—both an indie label and a one-of-a-kind record shop—for new and used vinyl and CDs. Don’t miss the coin-operated Elvis shrine out front.
Memphis is a world-famous destination, drawing visitors from all over the globe to its history, music and—of course—barbecue. Blues, rock-a-billy, rock and roll, jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues all grew from the events and cultural shifts that happened here. Once a slave trading center on the Mississippi in the mid-1800s, the city grew to become the unofficial capital of African-American life in the Mississippi Delta, and legendary Beale Street was its crown jewel. Musically, this is where the rural South met the sounds of the city and ignited a story that’s still being written. Appropriately gritty, strikingly beautiful and with an attitude all its own, it’s no wonder this river city has survived and thrived since the 1700s.
There’s so much to see and do here, we can’t even begin to cover it all. Check the Memphis CVB’s website for a complete guide to the city, no matter where your interests lie.
The National Civil Rights Museum is a groundbreaking institution housed partially in the Lorraine Motel, the site where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King last stood in 1968. Expansive and interactive exhibits, artifacts and memorabilia walk you step by step through the milestones and stories of how this social movement forever changed the world. It’s a powerful experience you won’t forget.
Visit the Center for Southern Folklore to learn about the people, music and traditions of the region.
Spend some time at the Pink Palace Museum, an award-winning facility with exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to the Civil War to…grocery stores. It’s housed in the former mansion of Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly, the first-ever supermarket.
Stop into A. Schwab General Store on Beale Street to get an authentic 1870s soda fountain experience and stock up on Memphis souvenirs, then head upstairs to 10,000 square feet devoted to music. Check out the records, artifacts books, vinyl and CDs, instruments and other cool stuff on display and for sale. Downstairs you’ll find an entire floor dedicated to African-American history, with a heavy concentration on Delta life at the turn of the century. This is the last remaining original business on Beale, housed in its oldest remaining building.
While you’re on Beale, don’t miss the Withers Collection Studio and Gallery. This incredible photography collection covers 60 years of 20th century African-American history, told through the powerful photography of renowned photojournalist Ernest Withers. His iconic prints are available for sale here, too.
See firsthand the mechanics of the Underground Railroad at Slavehaven, a former refuge and stopover for slaves traveling to freedom in secret.
Visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium for a deeper look into Old Man River, exploring its past, present and future.
Memphis is world-famous for its barbecue pork ribs and soul food, and you can’t leave town without sampling a few secret recipes. As with music clubs, many times the most unassuming spot is the most unforgettable, and fortunately you can find plenty of hidden gems in Memphis without looking too hard—many have been in business since before the civil rights era, still serving the same recipes that Martin Luther King Jr. and others enjoyed. Hit Alcenia’s for an amazing plate lunch or the Fourway Restaurant for meat-and-three heaven. The Gay Hawk is a sure bet for an authentic soul food experience that ends with its signature peach cobbler—and a time-warp vibe you’ll talk about for years to come. If it’s barbecue you’re after, start with local favorites Payne’s BBQ, Cozy Corner or Interstate Barbecue. And of course, we can’t go without mentioning Charlie Vergos Rendezvous—this popular Memphis barbecue icon is far from hidden, welcoming groups of tourists through its doors each day. Central BBQ is another well-known tourist favorite.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Memphis CVB website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
REGIONAL & STATE TRAVEL RESOURCES
To include in the MAP section
Find more information about the area as you plan your trip, including lodging, restaurants, helpful information from other travelers and more:
- In many rural areas, restaurants and other stops are open and ready for business on the weekends only; in other areas, attractions close on Sundays and Mondays instead. Be aware that hours of operation may vary, especially in smaller communities, and lodging options can be few and far between. We encourage you to visit websites, make phone calls and prepare in advance in order to catch these sites—small businesses and small towns in particular—at their best.
- Entering an authentic juke joint can feel like entering another country. Most spots are safe and welcoming to respectful travelers and visitors who are easygoing, and ready to soak up new traditions and experiences. In other words, “go with the flow” and you’ll have a great time.
- The rural South is economically diverse, with pockets of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, which can raise safety questions with travelers. Our advice is to behave as you would in any urban area—keep car doors locked, keep valuables with you and don’t flaunt jewelry or cash.
- This information was accurate when published but can change without notice.