Budget Travel

Mississippi: Birthplace of American Music

The Mississippi Delta is home to the legendary Blues Trail, taking visitors on a tour of the birth of America’s unique musical form, born in the rich soil of the Delta in communities such as Clarksdale (above), Greenwood, and Indianola. 

The historic Lyric Theater, in Oxford, is one of northern Mississippi’s major venues for live music, and its carefully restored and maintained interior and exterior will immerse you in the region’s history. And don’t forget that in June, Oxford will play host to one of three major bicentennial celebration concerts, at the Gertrude C. Ford Performing Arts Center. 

Club Ebony, in Indianola, is a major stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail, having been serving up blues music, including artists such as Ray Charles, Riley "B.B." King, and jazz pianist and bandleader William James "Count" Basie, since its founding at the end of WWII. Now owned by the B.B. King Museum (around the corner), the club evokes the great American songbook with its classic jukebox. Note that Club Ebony is not open to the public on a regular basis; please check details at bbkingmuseum.org.

Po’ Monkey’s Lounge, in Merigold, is a true-blue “juke joint,” a music house for farm workers to unwind and enjoy local blues music at the end of a day’s work. The joint, dating back to 1961, is on the Mississippi Blues Trail and fascinates visitors not only for its music, food, and beer, but for its authentic location among cotton fields in a one-room house. Insider tip: These days, Po’ Monkey’s Lounge is open only on Thursday, at 8:30pm. 

The Birthplace of Elvis Presley, in Tupelo, inspires pilgrimages from all over the world. The “King of Rock-n-Roll” is celebrated for helping to pioneer a blend of blues, country, bluegrass, and gospel music that literally got the world dancing in the 1950s. In some respects, Presley’s celebrity and early death overshadowed the fact that he was an exceptionally gifted one-man melting pot of southern Mississippi musical styles.

The Jimmie Rodgers Museum, in Meridian, immerses visitors in the life and work of the “Father of Country Music” in the town he called home. While not quite as world-famous as his Mississippi counterparts Elvis Presley and B.B. King, Rodgers’s contributions to American music are immense, and the museum’s memorabilia and educational exhibits are inspiring.

The B.B. King Museum, in Indianola, not only commemorates the life of the blues guitar legend but also serves as his final resting place and an educational center for visitors who want to learn about the Delta blues tradition that King was part of. The museum presents memorabilia, musical instruments, and exhibits that bring the music to life for kids and grownups alike.

The gravesite of Robert Johnson, in Greenwood, is one of the major stops along the Mississippi Blues Trail. Johnson remains a mysterious figure, having died in his twenties leaving behind a limited number of recorded music. But his influence is as great as any musical figure of the 20th century. Johnson drew on the early Delta blues tradition of artists such as Son House and through the use of unique guitar tunings and slide, helped usher in a sound that would influence musicians as diverse B.B. King, the Allman Bros, and the Rolling Stones.

Hattiesburg is the epicenter of traditional Americana and an alt-music scene that takes Mississippi musical heritage as its jumping-off point. As the Magnolia State celebrates its bicentennial, its musicians are truly “looking back and moving forward” too! Here, bluegrass musicians set the stage afire. 

The Grammy Museum Mississippi, in Cleveland, takes visitors on an evocative journey through the history of American popular music, celebrating the role that Mississippi-born artists such as Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, and B.B. King played in shaping America’s sound.

From classic blues to country to a thriving alt-traditional scene, the Magnolia State has always been a serious musical melting pot. This year, as the state celebrates its bicentennial of statehood, musicians will be “looking back and moving forward” statewide, including three major concerts in Gulfport, Oxford, and Jackson.

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