The Mississippi Delta is no stranger to hardship. The northwest region of the state between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers has endured times of economic stagnation over the years. Yet instead of fading into history unnoticed, the area inspired soul-stirring songs that stand among America’s greatest music contributions.
From Muddy Waters’ childhood as a sharecropper, B.B. King’s grueling job in a cotton gin and other unlikely sources came a new sound that the American public soon embraced: the blues. The revitalized Delta celebrates the many blues and jazz musicians who grew up in the area along Highway 61, the Blues Highway. Among the numerous stops on the 250-mile route are some acclaimed and interactive museums that will leave groups bobbing their heads to the beat.
B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
Tragedy struck King often during his early life as a sharecropper and tractor driver. He channeled his heartache into a new style of blues, which the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center examines.
The 2008 museum sits inside a restored brick cotton-gin building where King worked in the 1940s. Extensive artifacts from his life reveal how he rose to fame and the challenges he encountered along the way.
Interactive computers and videos tell his compelling story, including when he damaged a tractor at work, which prompted him to flee with his guitar and head to Memphis, Tennessee. Visitors can listen to King narrate some firsthand accounts of his life and mission to make it onto the airwaves.
After his death in 2015, King was buried at the museum in a planned memorial garden that guests can visit. The museum doesn’t just highlight King; it delves into the entire region and its influential music legends.
Groups can learn about the “King of Blues” at the museum before listening to a live blues performance with a catered lunch at nearby Club Ebony.
Gateway to the Blues Museum & Visitors Center
Guests can start by exploring the definition of blues music and end by producing their own blues song at the Gateway to the Blues Museum. Located in an 1895 train depot, the museum and visitors center welcome groups to one of the first major stops along the Blues Highway in Mississippi.
The 3,500-square-foot museum explores the musical heritage of the Mississippi Delta, especially Tunica’s contribution. Groups follow a series of interactive exhibits that begin with an introduction to the blues genre.
Artifacts such as W.C. Handy’s first cornet, George Hunt paintings of the Delta and over 20 guitars used by famous musicians bring the area’s blues legends to life. The museum invites hands-on learning with an exhibit on how to play a lap steel guitar and songwriting lessons from local blues artist. Each guest can record his or her own blues song with an opportunity to take their musical creation home with them.
Afterward, visitors stop by the gift shop for authentic Delta specialty items, such as Delta Blues Pecan Oil made in Tutwiler, Mississippi.