Mississippi Country Music Trail
Giants of country music—its Father, First Lady, High Priest and even its “Hillbilly Cat”—were born here. For every Jimmie Rodgers, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty and Elvis Presley, there is another Mississippian whose talent surpassed stereotypes to greatly expand country music and its fan base. From Charley Pride, the most successful African American artist in the genre, to “Mississippi Girl” Faith Hill, a huge pop-crossover star, to the many others whose names are less known, Mississippians have made their marks on country music. The Country Music Trail commemorates their many varied contributions and influences as well as the places that cradled their creativity.
Some of the brightest stars in Nashville started shining right here in Mississippi. From country music's earliest days to its hottest contemporary hitmakers, the Mississippi Country Music Trail promises music lovers a rip-roaring ride that traces the history of the genre in an unforgettable way.
Before there ever was a style of music called country, Meridian-born Jimmie Rodgers fused the flavours of blues, jazz, gospel and other influences to create his own distinctive sound in the 1920s and 1930s. After a short career with the railroad, the 'Singing Brakeman' became known around the country for hits like 'The Soldier's Sweetheart' and 'T for Texas'. Rodgers is now celebrated as the 'Father of Country Music' and was the first inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Faithful musical pilgrims can pay homage at the Country Music Trail marker erected near his gravesite in Meridian; and while you're in town don't miss the exhibits and special events at the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Museum.
Once you've heard from the Father of Country Music, it's time to learn about its first lady, who also happens to hail from Mississippi. Tammy Wynette was born Virginia Wynette Pugh and raised near the tiny northeast Mississippi town of Tremont, where a trail marker now tells the story of her incredible transition from farm life to internation stardom. If you listen very closely as you visit you can almost hear the strains of 'Stand by Your Man' in Wynette's unmistakable powerful voice.
Keep the country soundtrack blaring as you head for the Delta, home of another member of country music royalty, this one's dubbed its 'High Priest'. Only a few blocks from the Mighty Mississippi in Friars Point is where you'll find the marker for Conway Twitty, who was born in Mississippi in 1933 and whose sound has been described as 'bluesy rockabilly'. Twitty's amazing 55 chart-topping singles, including such memorable ballads as 'Hello Darlin'' and 'Slow Hand', make him one of its most beloved.
From Friars Point, it's only a short distance to drive to the Delta community of Sledge, best known as the hometown of country's most successful African-American artist, Charley Pride. The son of a sharecropper, Pride recorded more than two dozen no.1 honky-tonk tunes, including 'Kiss an Angel Good Morning' and 'Just Between You and Me'.
But the journey doesn't stop there. Some of the other famous names honoured by the trail include rodeo cowboy-turned-singer Chris LeDoux, born in Biloxi; Liberty native and 'country comedian' Jerry Clower; 'Hillbilli Rock' vocalist Marty Stuart of Philadelphia and Paul Overstreet, writer of such hits as 'On the Other Hand' and 'Forever and Ever Amen', who grew up in Vancleave. And on of the most recent markers honours favourite country girl Faith Hill in her hometown called Star.
And don't end your magical musical tour without a little live entertainment, The Sparta Opry, founded 25-years ago just south of the town of Houston, welcomes families and fans every Friday night for no-frills free concerts that combine two lively house bands with buffet catfish dinners. Like the music it celebrates, this night full of fun is a Mississippi tradition you won't want to miss!
More information is available at mscountrymusictrail.org and jimmierodgers.com.