Exploring music history in the Mississippi Delta

In the northwest corner of Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta region overflows with a wealth of musical history. After all, it’s the birthplace of the blues and rock ‘n’ roll. And while gospel wasn’t born here, it also figures prominently in the area’s musical evolution. For visitors wanting to take a deep dive into the Mississippi Delta’s key musical figures, the region contains four museums that document the evolution of the music and people that became an international sensations.

ExploreTraveling this fall: A multigenerational trip for the ages

Credit: Tunica CVB

Credit: Tunica CVB

Gateway to the Blues

On Blues Highway 61 in Tunica, Mississippi, is the Gateway to the Blues, which is the best starting point for digging into the area’s musical story. The 3,500-square-foot museum features six galleries that detail what the blues are, why the form developed in the Mississippi Delta, how the blues evolved, and key Mississippi bluesmen.

In the Evolution of the Guitar gallery, not only can you see guitars used by notable artists from various genres, but you also can try playing a lap steel guitar and a diddley bow, a homemade folk instrument with origins in West Africa. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn how to write and record your own blues song in the interactive Blues Lyric exhibit.

Before or after touring the museum, take time to explore the murals at the entrance to the museum. Painted by folk artist Lamar Sorrento, they showcase the people, places and spirit of the Delta.

13625 Highway 61 North Tunica Resorts, Mississippi. Admission: $10 for adults. tunicatravel.com/things-to-do/the-blues/gateway.

Credit: Rory Doyle

Credit: Rory Doyle

Delta Blues Museum

Next on your pilgrimage through the Delta, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi features permanent and temporary exhibits that pay tribute to the history of the blues and the people who created it. One of the primary exhibits is the remains of Muddy Waters’ cabin from Stovall Farms. It was just outside of Clarksdale where Waters lived and worked as a sharecropper and tractor driver. As you peruse the informational plaques inside that document Waters’ life, you also can hear him talk about his life as portions of an A&E biography of Waters play on a monitor inside.

Throughout the rest of the museum, you’ll find concert posters, sheet music, photographs, musical instruments, paintings and other artifacts that help share the story of the blues. Some of the best artifacts are the many recordings of interviews and performances of blues artists that are featured throughout the museum. It’s not uncommon to get caught up listening to artists’ stories or keeping beat with their songs.

1 Blues Alley Clarksdale, Mississippi. General admission: $12; seniors 65 and over and military: $10. (662) 627-6820. deltabluesmuseum.org.

Credit: Courtesy Visit Mississippi

Credit: Courtesy Visit Mississippi

ExploreHit the road on these four fall trips

B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center

At the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi, fans of the blues great can follow his journey from his youngest days until his death in 2015. There are recordings with King throughout the museum as he shares stories from his life as well as many performances. You’ll see artifacts such as his beloved guitar, Lucille, his tour bus, and two of his personal automobiles, a Chevy El Camino and a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.

One notable gallery is Artist to Icon, 1960s, which not only showcases King’s development as an artist on the road, but also the impact the civil rights movement had on the music of the time. Another one is the Memorial Courtyard, which contains King’s grave as well as a bronze statue of him holding Lucille.

The museum provides an intimate look at King’s life. It also showcases many of the challenges and accomplishments he had during his career.

400 Second Street, Indianola, Mississippi. Members admitted for free; adults: $15; adults over 60: $12. (662) 887-9539. bbkingmuseum.org.

Credit: Grammy Museum Cleveland, Mississippi

Credit: Grammy Museum Cleveland, Mississippi

Grammy Museum Mississippi

The first official Grammy Museum outside of Los Angeles, the Grammy Museum Mississippi is a 28,000-square-foot building on the campus of Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. Inside are more than two dozen exhibits covering many genres of music, including rock n’ roll, country, hip-hop, R&B, jazz and classical.

You’ll see a variety of artifacts ranging from artists’ outfits, musical instruments and, of course, Grammy Awards. At the “Great Grammy Performances” exhibit, unwind in a mini surround-sound theater while listening to rare footage of key musical moments, curated exhibit-related content or top collaborations from past Grammy Awards shows.

The museum also features a number of interactive exhibits where visitors can write and record a song, learn new dance moves on the History of Dance light-up dance floor, and play electrical music instruments in The Roland Room.

The Grammy Museum also hosts temporary exhibits documenting key figures and moments in music history. Past exhibits spotlighted The Beatles, Garth Brooks, and the 40th anniversary of MTV.

800 W Sunflower Rd., Cleveland, Mississippi. (662) 441-0100. grammymuseumms.org.

The Mississippi Delta’s musical heritage is deep and long and worth a visit for fans of all music. When planning your visit, allow plenty of time so you aren’t rushed at each museum. Also, be sure to check with each museum to find out what special events and live music it could be hosting during your visit.

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