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  • In Memphis, Tennessee, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
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    Find Music Everywhere You Turn in Memphis, Tennessee

  • Highway 61 marker at the Gateway to the Blues Museum in Tunica, Mississippi
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    Tunica, Mississippi: Gateway to the Blues

  • The King Biscuit Blues Festival, a hallmark event in Helena, Arkansas
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    Blues Heritage on the Mississippi River in Helena, Arkansas

  • Roger Stolle at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store in Clarksdale, Mississippi
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    Live Music and Museums in Clarksdale, Mississippi

  • A mural in Greenville, Mississippi, pays tribute to the area’s blues heritage
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    Get Your Groove on in Greenville, Mississippi

  • On the Mississippi Blues Trail, the B.B. King marker in Indianola, Mississippi
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    In Indianola, Mississippi, Visit the Home of Legend B.B. King

  • Architecture in Jackson, Mississippi at twilight
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    Living History in Jackson, Mississippi

  • Jazz trumpeter in New Orleans, Louisiana
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    Blues and Beyond in New Orleans, Louisiana

Blues musicians outside a juke joint in Mississippi
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Visit Mississippi

Bridging the Blues

  • Route distance:
    764.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Feeling the music where its roots formed

The South is the cradle of that uniquely American art form, the blues. A cousin of gospel, soul, and rock ’n’ roll, the blues were born in a thousand sharecroppers’ fields, humble shacks and rural juke joints (a loose local term for a small bar featuring music either live or from a jukebox). It gave melancholy voice to the hopes, despair and longings of the South’s poor, dispossessed and marginalized. Explore the origins of the blues and important landmarks in its early 20th century evolution on this itinerary, a collection of to-dos across three states and anchored by two high-profile festivals.

01
In Memphis, Tennessee, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
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Find Music Everywhere You Turn in Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis is a city of food, history and heritage that moves to dual soundtracks: that of the mighty Mississippi River and live music clubs that line the streets. As soon as you arrive at Memphis International Airport, you’ll discover that country and western aren’t the only types of music native to Tennessee. Visit the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, which uncovers the rural roots of blues, then the Stax Museum of American Soul, where you’ll learn about the giants of that genre. An audio tour of nearby Beale Street reveals the progression of blues from small towns to the big city. Nearby on South Main Street, The Blues Foundation offers the memorabilia- and art-packed Blues Hall of Fame. And on the edge of downtown, Sun Studio transports you to the place where B.B. King, Sleepy John Estes and Howlin’ Wolf recorded. But you can’t visit Memphis without hearing live music: B.B. King’s Blues Club holds down the west end of the Beale Street entertainment district, and depending on the night, Rum Boogie Café, Blues Hall or the Tap Room might also be smokin’ – listen for local favorites such as Eric Hughes, Ghost Town Blues Band and Brandon Santini. Then get ready to hit the “blues highway” en route to your next stop.

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61 km
1 hour by car
02
Highway 61 marker at the Gateway to the Blues Museum in Tunica, Mississippi
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Tunica, Mississippi: Gateway to the Blues

You’ll enter Tunica via U.S. Highway 61, the original “blues highway,” which defines the town and inspired artists from David “Honeyboy” Edwards to Charlie Musselwhite. Learn about the history of the highway at the Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center and Museum, which sits inside an 1895 train depot; a Mississippi Blues Trail marker at the site details the original route. Elsewhere in Tunica, keep your eyes open for other Blues Trail markers, including those dedicated to “Son” House, who performed in the area’s churches and juke joints, and to “Hardface” Clanton, an African-American entrepreneur who brought raw blues and gambling to the area long before Tunica County became the first county on the Mississippi River to legalize gaming. As you leave Tunica and cross over the river into Arkansas on your way to Helena, prepare for an even more intense immersion in the blues.

50 km
1 hour by car
03
The King Biscuit Blues Festival, a hallmark event in Helena, Arkansas
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Blues Heritage on the Mississippi River in Helena, Arkansas

Helena’s blues heritage is deep and wide, just like the Mississippi River that frames it. The best place to appreciate it is at the Delta Cultural Center, where listening stations let you sample Mississippi Delta musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson. For the maximum experience, time your visit with a live broadcast of the King Biscuit Time radio show at 12:15 p.m. weekdays. It’s the show that bluesmen like Muddy Waters and B.B. King listened to when they came in from working the fields. Of course you can also hear plenty of live blues music here. Try to time your visit with the King Biscuit Blues Festival, which takes place annually over Columbus Day weekend the second week of October and has featured headliners such as Bonnie Raitt and Bobby Rush. Go for free or ticketed performances, the blues symposium and children’s activities like harmonica lessons and blues storytelling. Head back over the river again for your next stop, Clarksdale, home to the intersection of man and myth.

48 km
1 hour by car
04
Roger Stolle at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store in Clarksdale, Mississippi
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Live Music and Museums in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Clarksdale is a standout on the blues trail for many reasons: The live music scene is sizzling, the shops, museums and festivals are memorable, and it’s home to The Crossroads, allegedly the spot where blues legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in return for the ability to play the blues guitar. Make sure you stop in at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, a store for the blues-curious and devotees, where the owner is brimming with recommendations. Don’t miss the Rock & Blues Museum or the Delta Blues Museum, where you can view the remains of Muddy Waters’ cabin and John Lee Hooker’s guitars. Festivals abound in Clarksdale; there’s the Juke Joint Festival in April, the Delta Busking Festival in September and Pinetop Perkins Homecoming in October. For live music year-round, check out Ground Zero Blues Club, which is co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, or try to catch Robert “Wolfman” Belfour at Clarksdale’s Red’s Lounge. On the way to your next stop, Greenville, take a detour to Merigold and see the building that once housed Po’ Monkey’s; a Mississippi Blues Trail marker moves you through the evolution of juke joints.

117 km
1 hour by car
05
A mural in Greenville, Mississippi, pays tribute to the area’s blues heritage
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Get Your Groove on in Greenville, Mississippi

No visit to the Mississippi Delta blues region would be complete without a stop in Greenville, a lively town where the sounds of the blues ripple across the river and around fertile fields. The Walnut Street Blues Bar gives you the modern juke feel with live blues, and the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival in early October stages the genre with an emphasis on Mississippi-bred standouts like Eden Brent, Cedric Burnside, Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition, and the North Mississippi Allstars. En route to your next stop, Indianola, take in Leland’s music-themed murals, and tip Pat Thomas at the Highway 61 Blues Museum, where he creates blues music and blues-themed art. 

39 km
1 hour by car
06
On the Mississippi Blues Trail, the B.B. King marker in Indianola, Mississippi
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In Indianola, Mississippi, Visit the Home of Legend B.B. King

You’ll feel the spirit of B.B. King as soon as you enter Indianola – in the clubs, in the festivals and in the monuments that celebrate and embrace the town’s native son. King’s life from sharecropper to blues legend is detailed at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. Outside the center, historic markers lead visitors to King landmarks, from the corner where he first earned money singing the blues, to the legendary Club Ebony. Dating to 1948, the club is known for bringing acts like Bobby “Blue” Bland, Albert King and eventually, B.B. himself through town. Watch for a statue of King in his namesake park and a mural amplifying his likeness. Continue to marker-hop along the Mississippi Blues Trail as you head south out of Indianola toward Jackson, your next stop.

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150 km
2 hours by car
07
Architecture in Jackson, Mississippi at twilight
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Living History in Jackson, Mississippi

Indianola may be defined by one legend, but Jackson is full them. The streets echo with the spirits of contemporary legends, like Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush, who lived and recorded here, as well as those who’ve passed on, including blues pianist Otis Spann, who grew up playing piano in Jackson churches. Spann was one of many who performed in the now-restored Alamo Theater, which sits on historic Farish Street in the town’s African-American district, a neighborhood with its own story to tell of civil rights. Visit the theater or look for the nearby markers on the former sites of Ace Records and Trumpet Records. If you want to visit an operating blues venue, try the Queen of Hearts. Then get ready to shift gears, because your next stop, New Orleans, offers an explosive scene where the blues are just one piece of a colorful musical mosaic.

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299 km
3 hours by car
08
Jazz trumpeter in New Orleans, Louisiana
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Blues and Beyond in New Orleans, Louisiana

The dynamic, multicultural heritage of New Orleans gave rise to the multiple musical styles that live there, whose sounds permeate the streets today. The Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, particularly along Frenchmen Street, are stacked with live music venues emanating with the sounds of zydeco, jazz, gospel, soul and, of course, blues. Southern blues artists have long settled in New Orleans, and Little Freddie King continues performing in the city today. Check the calendars at House of Blues and Rock ‘n’ Bowl; you can dine at both, and even bowl at the latter, and blues acts come through with regularity. If you’re in town in late April or early May, try to attend the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where you’ll hear every musical style associated with the city. The Big Easy’s musical legacy is so strong that they even named the airport after legendary jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Tip your hat to him as you end your trip and fly home.

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