For blues lovers, these museums and monuments offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of the musicians that started it all.
The southeastern region of the USA is where blues music was born, leaving its mark at numerous roadside attractions and makeshift monuments – from the guitar statues at Robert Johnson’s “Devil’s Crossroads” in Mississippi to the music hall in Arkansas where B.B. King's guitar “Lucille” got her name. For blues lovers, these museums and monuments offer an intimate glimpse into the music and its creators.
National Blues Museum: St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is one of the main cities where blues took hold as it migrated up from the South. Through informative exhibits and artifacts, the National Blues Museum explores this musical style from the late 19th century to the present. In one interactive exhibit, you can create a blues persona and record your own song. From the downtown museum, it’s just 10 minutes to the Gateway Arch and the scenic Mississippi River Greenway.
Tour through the National Blues Museum in downtown St. Louis
Delta Blues Museum: Clarksdale, Mississippi
Clarksdale is where delta blues originated and is part of the Mississippi Blues Trail, a series of significant Mississippi blues landmarks. The Delta Blues Museum’s permanent collection houses amazing relics, including as guitars played by Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Son Thomas. The crown jewel is the remains of the cabin where Alan Lomax first recorded Waters in 1941. For live music, stop by Ray’s Lounge, Ground Zero Blues Club or one of the popular music events, such as the Juke Joint Festival, Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival or the Deep Blues Festival.
Learning about Big Mama Thornton at the Delta Blues Museum
B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center: Indianola, Mississippi
A blues fixture for more than 60 years, B.B. King rightfully earned his “King of the Blues” nickname. The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi, just 25 minutes from King’s birthplace in the rural Mississippi Delta, features rare artifacts, film footage and historical information. Amazingly, the facility is constructed around the abandoned cotton gin where he worked as a young man. King is buried at the museum that he worked so lovingly to support.
Wander over to Club Ebony, a stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail and a part of the Chitlin’ Circuit of bars and clubs, which catered to African-Americans in the first part of the 20th century. Club Ebony is one of the last remaining landmark blues clubs still standing.
Learning about the “King of the Blues” at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
Blues Hall of Fame Museum: Memphis, Tennessee
Blues musicians have congregated in Memphis for more than a century, and it’s still known as the “Home of the Blues.” Step into the Blues Hall of Fame Museum to discover a repository of instruments, awards, autographs and costumes from Hall of Fame inductees. Look for Dr. John’s funky walking stick, a guitar autographed by Buddy Guy and a Muddy Waters tour jacket. When you make your way over to Beale Street afterward, don’t miss a photo opportunity at the W.C. Handy Museum. This is where Handy, known as the “Father of the Blues,” wrote “Memphis Blues,” the first big blues hit. There’s a statue of him at Handy Park just a few steps away.
W.C. Handy Home, Museum & Library: Florence, Alabama
Memphis may claim his later home, but Florence, Alabama, is where W.C. Handy was born in 1873. Among items inside the humble cabin-turned-museum are his trumpet, piano and handwritten sheet music. A tour guide tells Handy’s story, from his Florence roots to his illustrious career in Memphis, St. Louis and New York. In July, Florence hosts the W.C. Handy Music Festival, recognized as one of the top events in the region. If you’re an all-around music buff, tour the historic music sites in Florence and Muscle Shoals. These neighboring towns were once known as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.”
Living blues history at The W.C. Handy Home and Museum
Bessie Smith Cultural Center: Chattanooga, Tennessee
With a voice that wouldn’t quit, Chattanooga-born Bessie Smith, known as “The Empress of the Blues,” forever changed the game for African-American blues musicians who were women. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center includes artifacts and exhibits about Smith and other notable figures. While you are in the area, don't miss Chattanooga’s thriving culinary scene, fun family attractions and free summer concert series.