African-American Landmarks: Clarksdale, Mississippi, Birthplace of the Blues

 Part of our African-American landmarks travel series

 

By Kimberly Dijkstra

 

It’s time to head down to the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the Delta blues were born!

 

Dominated by guitar and harmonica and featuring slide guitar and a wide range of vocal styles, Delta blues is one of the earliest-known types of blues. The origins of the genre that has influenced so many other genres of music can be seen and felt all throughout the city of Clarksdale, found in the Mississippi Delta region.

 

A worthy vacation destination for music lovers and casual travelers alike, Clarksdale has a number of blues-related landmarks, from the legendary street corner where blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to the city’s very first radio station where disc jockey Early “Soul Man” Wright rose to fame.

 


Delta Blues Museum.

 

Only an hour and a half south of Memphis, Tennessee, start your visit at the Delta Blues Museum. Established in 1979, the internationally-acclaimed museum features a wax figure of Muddy Waters and his famous Muddywood Guitar, historic videos, audio recordings, photographs of early blues greats, and all sorts of memorabilia. 

 


Ground Zero Blues Club

Also on Blues Alley, the Ground Zero Blues Club celebrates the area’s rich blues heritage and showcases some of today’s best blues musicians, in addition to serving up down-home Southern eats.

 

A favorite tourist stop, the monument at the corner of Hwy 61 and Hwy 49 marks the crossroads where bluesman Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to achieve musical success, according to legend. Johnson has been said to be one of the most important blues singers and has been cited as an influence by generations of musicians. 

 

Similarly, another Clarksdale native, Muddy Waters, was an important figure on the blues scene. He brought the Delta blues sound up north and became the father of modern Chicago blues. The cabin he grew up in on Stovall Plantation is now part of the Delta Blues Museum.

 


 

The Mississippi Blues Trail passes right through Clarksdale and markers help tell the stories of the men and women whose influence is still felt today.

 

Renowned blues singer Bessie Smith built a successful career recording with Columbia Records, which was cut short by a fatal car accident. She died at the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital, a building which became the Riverside Hotel, one of the only hotels in the state that welcomed African-American guests. The hotel hosted Sonny Boy Williamson II, Duke Ellington, Ike Turner, and Robert Nighthawk and is marked by a Blues Trail marker. 

 

Hopson Plantation is also on the trail. Blues pianist Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins drove a tractor for the Hopson Planting Co. before starting a successful career in blues, eventually earning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a spot in the Blues Hall of Fame. 

 


Markers for artists Sam Cooke, Ike Turner, and Wade Walton are found throughout Clarksdale, as well as plaques at the site of WROX, the first radio station in town, and the New World District, a neighborhood where early ragtime, blues, and jazz flourished. The mobile app is the best way to navigate the Mississippi Blues Trail.

 

A self-guided walking tour in downtown Clarksdale, the Clarksdale Walk of Fame honors notable people, including John Lee Hooker, ZZ Top, Son House, Muddy Waters, Early Wright, John Clark, Super Chikan, and Big Jack Johnson. Sam Cooke’s plaque is dedicated outside the New Roxy theater where he once performed.

 

Maps for your visit to the birthplace of blues can be downloaded at visitclarksdale.com, plus restaurant recommendations and event listings. From the Deep Blues Festival and Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival to the Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale celebrates blues music year-round.

 

 

 


More Landmarks and Destinations

Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

The Black Cowboy Museum

The Underground Railroad

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Booker T. Washington National Monument

The DuSable Museum of African American History

Sojourner Truth - Monuments To A Monumental Woman

Clarksdale, Mississippi, Birthplace of the Blues

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park

 

 

 

 

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