Mississippi Music History - Robert Johnson

Musical Heritage in Mississippi

The state of Mississippi is the birthplace of the blues and has influenced many other genres of music from jazz to country, rock’n’roll to gospel. Many legendary musicians have a history in Mississippi including Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Charley Patton, Son House and WC Handy. The Mississippi Blues Trail, established in 2003, places markers throughout Mississippi to honour the places and people that gave birth to the blues.

Music Heritage in Clarksdale

Visit the Delta Blues Museum located in Clarksdale, home of the famous Robert Johnson crossroads and the Delta region known as land of the Delta blues. Legendary Delta blues artists like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Son House, Sam Cooke, Jackie Brenston, Junior Parker and WC Handy were born and raised in or around Clarksdale and travelling musicians like Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Charley Patton are also associated with the city. Today, the Delta blues history is preserved for visitors at the Delta Blues Museum where the exhibitions and events tell the story of the blues in the states oldest music museum. The Delta Blues Museum Stage serves local festivals such as the Juke Joint Festival in April and the Sunflower River Blues Festival in August.

As grittily as they come and drenched in Delta history is the Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale, just one of many historical blues sites and the fourth marker placed on the Mississippi Blues Trail which will eventually be composed of over 120 markers. The Riverside Hotel on Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale originally opened in 1944, but before this it was the GT Thomas Hospital where in 1937 Bessie Smith died after a car accident on Highway 61. This room is now known as Room No.2 and is available to rent. Frank “Rat” Ratcliff, only 4 when his mother converted this building into a hotel, is the current proprietor and has many colourful and wonderful stories of the blues. Ike Turner lived in Room No.7 for a number of years and wrote Rocket 88 here. Room no. 6 is where John Lee Hooker used to stay and was often seen practising on the front steps. Other great bluesmen have also stayed here including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk and Sam Cook, as well as other famous guests like John F Kennedy Jr.

Music Heritage in Cleveland

Visit the Delta State University Archives in Cleveland, Mississippi which include occasional Smithsonian exhibits, historical displays and changing exhibits on the Delta.  Here you can also take the Historic Blues Driving Tour, a self guided tour of sites important to the blues music.

The Dockery Plantation, an old cotton plantation on the Sunflower River, accounts for the region’s importance in the blues culture. It was the base for a group of musicians including blues pioneer Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf and is widely regarded at the place where the Delta blues was born. To highlight the important contribution to the Delta blues history, the plantation has been allocated a blues marker on the MS Blues Trail. 

Music Heritage in Greenwood

The Greenwood Blues Heritage Museum & Gallery is a showplace dedicated to the life, career and afterlife of Robert Johnson “King of the Delta blues singers”, and to other central Delta blues music artists featuring an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia. The museum raises awareness and shows appreciation of Blues music in the Delta. Robert Johnson’s tombstone in Greenwood, Mississippi marks one of three reputed burial sites to one of music’s greatest artists and is also marked with a MS Blues Trail marker.

Just minutes away from Greenwood is Indianola, the birthplace of international superstar and blues legend BB King. A visit to the Delta is not complete without stopping to check out the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Centre – a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the life and music of its namesake as well as the land that inspired his sound.

Music Heritage in Oxford

Tour the Ole Miss Blues Archive in Oxford, Mississippi. The blues Archive has over 60,000 sound recordings, over 20,000 photographs, more than 1,000 videos and over 6,000 books & newsletters and numerous manuscripts, making it one of the largest collections of blues memorabilia in the world. Should you happen to be on Oxford's historic town square on a Thursday night, be sure to check out Thacker Mountain Radio, a broadcast of literary readings and an eclectic mix of musical performances.

Music Heritage in Tupelo

At the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi view a statue of Elvis as a boy, tour the humble two-room shotgun house built by his father where the King of Rock and Roll was born and raised, visit the memorial chapel where Elvis discovered his first musical influences and the Elvis Presley Museum showcasing how his roots influenced his future. The self guided tours take you around some of the most significant locations in Elvis’ life in Tupelo. The “Walk of Life” surrounds the house with path following dated granite blocks denoting each year of Elvis’ life from 1935 to 1977. The annual Elvis Presley festival is held here every June and Tupelo is also featured on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Then continue your Elvis journey to Graceland in Memphis.

Music Heritage in Leland

Visit the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland Mississippi and experience the history of the Delta Blues with exhibits, signed artefacts and memorabilia throughout the museum that honour the Mid-Mississippi Delta Bluesmen. The Leland Blues Project has commissioned a number of murals to be painted on the walls of downtown buildings and several of these murals are completed with more being planned. The Leland Blues Project participates in many blues events in the area like The Block Parties, Blues Festival and Fall Arts Fair which all feature local blues greats.

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