Four road trips to discover Mississippi’s cultural heartland
From Elvis’s home to Robert Johnson’s final resting place, follow these trails to discover Mississippi's incredible relationship with music and culture.
As the soulful cradle of the Blues, the musical heritage of Mississippi has forever shaped the soundtrack of the US. But, alongside the haunting hum of bluesy harmonicas, you’ll also hear the sweet twang of banjos playing country ditties and Southern authors waxing lyrical. Follow these four revealing routes through Mississippi to explore a cultural hotbed where history meets harmony.
1. Mississippi Blues Trail
A road trip along Highway 61, the USA’s fabled musical highway, cuts through the beating heart of the Mississippi Delta, a region that’s produced some of the greatest blues musicians of all time. The first stop should be the Clarksdale Crossroads, where legend has it Robert Johnson traded his soul with the devil in return for his formidable talents. At the Little Zion Church in Greenwood, fans still leave liquor bottles at the guitar virtuoso’s graveside.
Next, head to the recently updated B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, stopping off along the way at rootsy juke joints such as Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero to refuel on crispy fried chicken, while being serenaded by electrifying live music sets. In the state capital of Jackson, you’ll find a new marker celebrating unsung female recording artist Dorothy Moore. This pioneering blues singer, whose hits included the GRAMMY-nominated Misty Blue, took control of her career by founding her own record label, trailblazing a route for women artists in her wake.
2. Mississippi Country Music Trail
While blues music gets main billing in Mississippi, country music is the state’s undisputed fast-picking support act. Stars from the Magnolia State run the gauntlet from the ‘Father of Country Music’, Jimmie Rodgers, right up to contemporary hitmaker Faith Hill, via musical titans Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride and the swivel-hipped Elvis Presley. This boot-stomping trail connects the dots between Mississippi’s acclaimed country musicians and the road houses, honky-tonks and front porches where they honed their craft.
The latest must-visit attraction for music fans is the freshly unveiled Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Housed in an awe-inspiring former cathedral, this treasure trove of a museum boasts the largest private collection of country music artefacts in the world.
3. Mississippi Freedom Trail
Walk in the footsteps of the civil rights movement’s great changemakers on this powerful trail encompassing 30-plus sites. At the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, a museum on the site of a former courthouse tells the tragic history – recently brought to light once again with the 2023 release of the film Till – while pointing the way toward racial healing.
In Hattiesburg, the largest Freedom Summer area in Mississippi, markers and an audio tour commemorate those who participated in the 1964 voter registration drive, while the interactive Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson sensitively guides visitors through the state’s crucial role in the civil rights movement.
4. Mississippi Writers Trail
From the small-town charm of northern Mississippi, down to the palm-fringed sandy beaches of the Gulf Coast, this bookish driving tour celebrates the state’s indelible mark on US storytelling. The first stop should be the quaint college town of Oxford to visit Rowan Oak; the beloved family home of Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner. Don’t miss the room where the writer hastily scrawled a plot twist on the wall. Next, stroll past dinky tea houses and lofty columned lyceums to visit the atmospheric independent bookstore Square Books, where shelves heave under the weight of Southern literary classics.
“Home is where you hang your childhood,” as said the USA’s most performed playwright Tennessee Williams. For him, that place was Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta, a town that heavily influenced his writings. Each October, Clarksdale returns the affection with a blockbuster three-day festival celebrating the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, including performances and talks by Mississippi’s new generation of Southern scribes.
Three musicians from Mississippi
Fans can stand in the exact spot where of King of Rock 'n' Roll made his debut appearance, in a two-roomed shotgun shack in Tupelo, Mississippi. The humble birthplace still stands, as does the hardware store where Elvis’s doting mother bought his game-changing guitar. Each June, Tupelo honours its homegrown hero with a festival where rockabilly quiffs are standard.
Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram
Born in Clarksdale, this astonishing young blues guitarist and singer is considered one of the most exciting musicians of his generation. His 2019 debut album Kingfish was met with a GRAMMY nomination and held the top spot in the Billboard Blues chart for a staggering 91 weeks. His music takes the baton from pioneers such as B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix and Prince, and sprints down the track with it.
From the King of Rock 'n' Roll to the 'King of the Blues', it’s under two hours from Tupelo to Berclair, birthplace of the mighty B.B. King. The granddaddy of electric guitarists, King rose from impoverished beginnings on a sharecropper’s farm to carve out an impressive 60-year career as an ambassador of the Blues.
Plan your trip
To discover more about Mississippi and its cultural trails, visit travelsouthusa.com and visitmississippi.org
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