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The blues has deep roots in Mississippi. Historically, the blues evolved from work songs and spirituals sung by enslaved and later sharecropping African Americans; the form was pivotal to the birth of jazz, rock and roll, and R&B. The style is radically personal, expressing the human condition in lyrics and distinct characteristics like sustained syllables, bent guitar strings, the use of metal slide guitars, and more. Mississippi was a central region for the meteoric rise of the blues in the early 20th century, and the state continues to nurture new styles and voices. For music lovers and history buffs alike, Mississippi’s official Blues Trail is a road trip must.

The Mississippi Blues Trail offers an assemblage of 200 significant locations, some as small as a roadside signpost marking what once was, others as immersive as a museum or bustling music venue. Historical markers sprawl beyond state lines, as well — you’ll find official trail markers in places as far away as Chicago, Maine, France, and even Norway, emphasizing the global impact of this art form. As the state of Mississippi and the Mississippi Blues Commission run the trail, each site is approved by dozens of blues and culture experts!

We’ve created a Mississippi Blues Trail road trip that celebrates notable places and events from the form’s early days to the late 20th century. You can add more stops to your route by visiting msbluestrail.org. And, because road trip music is a must, there’s also an official playlist on Spotify with 200 tracks to set the mood!

The Mississippi Blues Trail: 13 Can’t-Miss Stops

Gateway to the Blues Museum/Highway 61 Blues

We’ll start with legendary Highway 61, Blues Highway, in Tunica, MS, just south of Memphis. The Gateway to the Blues Museum Visitors Center in Tunica is an old railroad depot and a great place to kick off your trip. Whether you are a die-hard fan or new to the blues, this is the perfect place to spend an hour or two learning characteristics of the style, perusing memorabilia, exploring the Mississippi Bluesmen exhibit, and writing a blues song that can be e-mailed to you! The museum is a great way to fuel up on background and context for the rest of the trip.

Exterior of the Gateway to the Blues Museum along the Mississippi Blues Trail

The Gateway to the Blues Museum in Tunica, MS, is housed in an old railroad depot. There, visitors can learn distinct characteristics of blues music and even try to write a blues song of their own! Image: Visit Mississippi

Delta Blues Museum

Continuing on Route 61 South, you’ll arrive in Clarksdale, a significant blues hub. Dozens of artists such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Son House were born in the area. Even more performed in town, a popular stop on the touring circuit. We’ll be visiting multiple places here in Clarksdale, starting with the comprehensive Delta Blues Museum. This is another railroad depot museum focused on the Delta blues, an early style that often features a solo singer playing acoustic guitar or harmonica. A highlight is the Muddy Waters addition, where Waters’ cabin during his younger days is the gallery’s centerpiece.

Just around the corner, you’ll find both the Ground Zero Blues Club (partially owned by Clarksville native Morgan Freeman) and the site of the annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival. The festival is an official trail stop and takes place one August weekend each year — this year’s festival will take place August 12 through 14, 2022. Red’s Lounge, another popular live music venue, is only about a block away from the Delta Blues Museum.

Painting of jazz musician in the Delta Blues Museum

The Delta Blues Museum is a vibrant stop along the trail. Here, you can find an exhibit dedicated to Muddy Waters, including his actual childhood home. Image: Visit Mississippi

Band playing live music at Ground Zero Blues Club

Known as the official juke joint in Clarksdale, Red’s Lounge is a local mainstay for live music. Image: Tate Nations for Visit Mississippi

Sam Cooke Birthplace and The New Roxy

Clarksdale is also the birthplace of Sam Cooke, the legendary 1960s singer and songwriter known for hits like “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Bring It on Home to Me.” The official trail sign for Cooke’s birthplace is just outside a revitalized theater called The New Roxy, another place to catch live music, though it’s not officially on the trail. The venue has two unique places to listen, a large open-air theater (a repurposed movie theater) and an intimate indoor lounge. Be sure to linger and explore Clarksdale’s Arts and Culture District!

Hopson Commissary

The Hopson Planting Co. was a commercial cotton farm and a developmental site for mechanical farming equipment. It’s now a music venue with BBQ and live shows nearly every weekend. The site also honors Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, who, like many blues musicians, worked as a tractor driver (at Hopson) while playing piano and signing on the side. Perkins eventually became a lifetime Grammy Achievement Award winner, holding the record for the oldest Grammy winner at age 97. Like many famous blues musicians, Perkins appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, playing piano with John Lee Hooker in the iconic “Boom Boom” scene. A few unique lodging options are possible at Hopson, including Shack Up Inn, a collection of over 50 shotgun shacks, as well as grain and cotton bins. Each place at the Inn is uniquely decorated and modernized with climate control and kitchenettes.

Microphone on stage at the Shack Up Inn located along the Mississippi Blues Trail

The Shack Up Inn is a fabulous lodging option along the Mississippi Blues Trail, comprised of over 50 modernized shotgun shacks, plus a gin bar and music lounge. Image: Shack Up Inn

GRAMMY Museum Mississippi

Proceed on Route 61 to Cleveland, Mississippi, where GRAMMY Museum Mississippi (which first opened in 2008) honors and celebrates the GRAMMY awards and many styles of music. Exhibits, memorabilia, and interactive galleries are on site, including a room to learn dance moves through the years led by GRAMMY winner NE-YO. Another room lets you learn to write and record a song with Keb’ Mo’s help. In the Mississippi Music Bar, you can listen to the wide variety of music that originated in Mississippi. Especially worthwhile is a film dedicated to the history of the awards, which are important to the blues because they brought national acclaim and recognition from peers within the genre.

Interior of GRAMMY Museum Mississippi

GRAMMY Museum Mississippi celebrates the GRAMMY awards and also honors a wide variety of musical styles. Image: Tate Nations for Visit Mississippi

B.B. King Museum

Peel off Route 61 and head southeast to Indianola, the home of legendary guitarist B.B. King. There, you can visit commemorative markers for Club Ebony and a corner on Church Street where King played for tips as a teenager in the 1940s. Later in life, King purchased Club Ebony to preserve it for history (the club has since closed, but its location is commemorated). While you are in Indianola, visit the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. The museum is a testament to King’s musical career and life story. It follows King’s transformation into a world-famous musician while weaving in the history and music of the Delta region. The location also serves as his final resting place.

Exterior fo Club Ebony, a destination located along the Mississippi Blues Trail

Though B.B. King’s Club Ebony is now closed, its location is commemorated as an official marker on the Blues Trail. Image: Visit Mississippi

Interior of B.B. King Museum located along the Mississippi Blues Trail

Museums in Indianola, MS, offer a closer look at the life and career of blues legend B.B. King. Image: Tate Nations for Visit Mississippi

Dockery Farms

The marker at Dockery Farms, “Birthplace of the Blues?”, highlights the reality that it is difficult — perhaps impossible — to track the origin of the art form. But, the Blues Trail Commission highlights the farm, which dates from 1895, as an important starting point.

William Alfred “Will” Dockery had tenant farmers, one of whom was Bill Patton, Jr. and his family. Patton’s son, Charley, became a successful guitar player, learning to play from Henry Sloan, a profound early influence on the blues. His impact was so deep, in fact,  that two trail markers are dedicated to him — one describing him as “the most important recording artist, creative musician, and crowd-pleasing entertainer in Mississippi blues during his lifetime.”

Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, “Pops” Staples, “Honeyboy” Edwards, and Son House can all trace their later careers to influences from Patton or performances with him (or at Dockery Farms). According to the Blues Trail Commission, “Historians have traced so much of the blues back to Patton and his contemporaries around Dockery and Drew that some regard the area as the wellspring of Delta blues.” Johnson’s grave is also a stop on the trail. The grounds are free to visit, and most buildings are open-air. You can also arrange for a paid tour ahead of time.

Dockery Farms building

Though it is difficult to mark the exact birthplace of the blues, Dockery Farms is widely regarded as such. Image: Visit Mississippi

RELATED: 6 Reasons To Visit Cleveland, MS

B.B. King Birthplace and Blue Front Cafe

Moving east on Route 82, just off the highway, is B.B. King’s birthplace marker in Berclair. Hop on Route 49 to continue south to the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia. This cafe provided a place for African Americans working on cotton farms to order food and soda and hear live blues music during segregation.

The cafe has hosted many acts through the years as a juke joint. Today, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, a recent GRAMMY nominee, continues the family ownership and operation of the Blue Front. If you are lucky, Jimmy might even be playing there on a Friday night. You can also make plans for the Bentonia Blues Festival, hosted each summer during the third weekend in June, as it has been for the last 50 years.

Musicians performing outside Blue Front Cafe, a destination on the Mississippi Blues Trail

The Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, MS, is owned by acclaimed blues musician Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Locals and visitors regularly gather here to enjoy live blues music. Image: Visit Mississippi

100 Men Hall

This stop is a more extended excursion toward the Gulf Coast on Route 49. The 100 Men DBA Hall, built by the One Hundred Members Debating Benevolent Association, was a social club at the turn of the 20th century. A wide variety of blues artists have played there for nearly a century. The hall was a popular stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” a performance circuit that catered to African Americans during segregation, with performances by African American musicians. This stop also honors that history.

The hall was recently saved from demolition and recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Zeta, and it is once again hosting live music in the summer of 2022 in the Bay Saint Louis area. On Labor Day weekends, the hall hosts BookerFest, a fundraiser and tribute to blues and jazz pianist James C. Booker. A side trip to New Orleans is always possible, as the Hall is less than an hour’s drive from the Big Easy.

Howlin’ Wolf

Heading back north, stop in West Point to honor Chester Arthur Burnett (also known as Howlin’ Wolf), a giant in the blues world. The trail marker is near his birthplace. You can find his music all over the globe, thanks to his recordings and the fact that he has been covered by major rock bands, including Led Zeppelin, Megadeth, and The Rolling Stones. Today, the town has a life-size statue of Wolf, and the Black Prairie Blues Museum features an exhibit on him with fascinating archival memorabilia. The museum frequently hosts live music events on the weekends. Check out their Facebook page for the current schedule.

Musicians performing at the Black Prairie Blues Museum

Legendary blues musician Howlin’ Wolf gained global attention when bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones recorded covers of his songs. Image: Black Prairie Blues Museum

Elvis Presley Birthplace

Head a few miles north on Route 45 to the King of Rock and Roll’s birthplace to learn more about how the blues shaped his life and influenced his unique sound. The actual trail marker is dubbed “Elvis Presley and the Blues” and is located at his birthplace in Tupelo, MS. The house is part of a more considerable Presley attraction, Elvis Birthplace Museum Chapel. Elvis recorded and performed many blues songs. The Blues Trail Commission writes that “the Presley family lived in several homes in Tupelo that were adjacent to African American neighborhoods, and as a youngster, Elvis and his friends often heard the sounds of blues and gospel streaming out of churches, clubs, and other venues. According to Mississippi blues legend Big Joe Williams, Elvis particularly listened to Tupelo blues guitarist Lonnie Williams.”

"Elvis Presley and the Blues" trail marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail

Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, MS, and it is said that blues musicians of the time helped shape his unique sound. Image: Tate Nations for Visit Mississippi

RELATED: Your Guide to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail

W.C. Handy Birthplace and Museum

W.C. Handy referred to himself as the Father of the Blues; he was a top-notch trumpet player and a renowned bandleader and composer. Handy created some of the most iconic blues songs of the early- to the mid-20th century: “Beale Street Blues,” “St. Louis Blues,” and of course, “Memphis Blues” in 1912. The birthplace and museum in Florence, AL, are a great place to visit. Still, you should also take time to explore the immense music history at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, part of Nashville’s Big Back Yard (another great regional trail). Handy’s importance is evidenced by his being honored by four Mississippi Blues Trail stops!

Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum

Casey Jones is a folk hero — a railroad engineer who died while trying to save all of his passengers during a horrific train crash in Vaughn, MS, in 1900; his story inspired many blues songs and dozens of ballads across different genres. The Casey Jones Railroad Museum, another restored railroad depot, is next to a commemorative Casey Jones sign, and it’s part of the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area. Today, the museum boasts restored train cars, including an on-site caboose. The inside of the depot is restored with exhibits about Jones, the depot, and trains in the early 20th century.

Old trains outside the Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum

Casey Jones was a railroad engineer who died while trying to save all of his passengers during a horrific train crash. His story inspired many blues songs, earning him an honorable spot on the Blues Trail. Image: Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum

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