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    Painting of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil
     
    "The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom."  Maya Angelou


    cotton bolls in vase with picture of Dockery Farms
    The history of the Delta, the triangular floodplain that lies between the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers, has long been noted as some of America's most fertile land and it was home to Native Americans for more than 1300-years before Columbus. The French, the first European settlers, began importing slaves from Africa in 1720. They attempted to grow various crops but by the end of the 1700s cotton was the biggest cash crop and with it the need for slaves to work the fields exploded. www.visitmississippi.org

    After the 1820s the Indian treaties allowed the land to be opened to white settlers. A culture thrived with many large-scale plantations and free black labor facilitated America's largest group of millionaires residing on the shores of the Mississippi.Wade Hampton III owned 900 slaves and Stephen Duncan, a former Pennsylvanian, owned more than 1000.  At the onset of the Civil War just under 50% of the state's families owned slaves and 55% of the residents were enslaved. Post Emancipation Delta life was redefined but the equality blacks hoped for did not come. African American life and economic opportunity was still tightly controlled and civil rights were denied. By 1910 92% of the Delta's farms were run by tenants and of that number 95% were black.
    mementos of blues singers
    The church was the one institution that sustained them and music soothed them. A blending of gospel, work songs and African rhythms led to the creation of a purely American art form, the Delta Blues. Music became a way out for the bluesmen of old and as they left the Delta, via the roads or rails, they took their music with them and changed music history forever. www.visitthedelta.com

    Hwy 61 Blues sign at Tunica Visitors center
    Mississippi, the "Birthplace of America's Music", has done an outstanding job of identifying sites significant in blues history and allied music genres, country, rock 'n' roll, rockabilly and gospel. Blues as uniquely American, has had a profound impact on music internationally and its realm of influence can be traced along the trail. Highway 61 is the spine of the route and is known as the "Blues Highway," commemorated in story and song, taken by many bluesmen, carrying their suitcase and the blues, north. msbluestrail.org
    Gateway to the blues, tunica's visitors center
    Tunica's Gateway to the Blues Visitors Center and Museum is the perfect place to begin your tour along Highway 61. Here you can learn about all aspects of the route as well as obtain guides and maps and purchase unique souvenirs worthy of the trip. The museum galleries display exhibits trace the music history from its origins to the 60s British Invasion through more than 700 artifacts and artworks. The jewels of the collection are a 1952 Les Paul guitar and a coronet that belonged to W.C. Handy. The center, located at the entrance of the Delta, is situated inside an 1895 one-room train depot, reminiscent of the type the bluesmen would have known, complete with railroad tracks in front. www.tunicatravel.com 

    Hollywood Cafe in Mississippi
    The Hollywood Café opened in 1969 inside a 1926 commissary building and quickly became renowned. It has been featured on The Travel Channel, in John Grisham's "A Time to Kill" and it is where Muriel played piano in Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis." Her piano still sits on the stage. This iconic restaurant is known for its ambiance, great Southern menu  and as the place where fried dill pickles were created. Dine like a legend! www.thehollywoodcafe.com
    portrait of Robert Johnson
    Highway 61 originally ran from New Orleans to the Canadian border. The MS Delta portion is known as the Blues Highway because it is along this road that numerous pivotal events occurred. Clarksdale has justifiably emerged as the most recognized of the cities on the music trail. It has the greatest number, nine, of blues markers of any of the cities. Seminal music figures were born here, Sam Cooke and Ike Turner and the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, died here in 1937 in the then Thomas Afro-American Hospital. Most significantly, at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil, who in turn tuned his guitar for him giving him phenomenal musical ability. www.visitclarksdale.com 
    Delta Blues Museum
    The Delta Blues Museum, the oldest music museum in the state, was founded in 1979 to preserve and promote the blues' legacy. The collection begins with the African origin of the blues and interprets its incarnations in the Delta and internationally. Highlights of the collection include a Three Forks sign from the place Robert Johnson was poisoned and three important displays from the life of Muddy Waters, the Stovall Plantation cabin in which he made his first recordings, a replica of the 1939 Ford Deluxe driven in 1942 through the Delta by Alan Lomax and a Muddywood guitar crafted from cypress from Muddy's Stovall cabin. He lived in the 4-room cabin with a porch from the age of 3. www.deltablesmuseum.org
    Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale
    Clarksdale has the distinction of being home to the past, present and the future of the blues.  History is found on every street and visitors have the opportunity to sit in on sessions of the finest blues in two of the three top blues clubs in the nation, Ground Zero and Red's Lounge. Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett have designed Ground Zero to replicate a juke joint and Red's Lounge is widely considered the last authentic juke joint. www.groundzerobluesclub.com
     
    The Lofts at the Five & Dime, situated in the heart of this blues destination, offers the perfect accommodations for your visit. The luxury lofts are on the upper level of a historic Woolworths with a restaurant on the lower level. The rooms are well appointed and the service is nonpareil.
    www.fiveanddimelofts.com

    Robert Johnson's tombstone

    Robert Johnson was 27 when he died, had recorded 29 songs and would influence bluesman across the world. The 10-site Robert Johnson Life & Legacy Tour is centered around Greenwood, MS. In July of 1938 Johnson was poisoned over a woman in a juke joint. He died an agonizing death on August 16, 1938 on the Star of the West Plantation. Several burial sites have been cited but it is now generally accepted that he was buried in Little Zion M.B. Church Cemetery. Little Zion M.B. Church, Minnie's place of worship in The Help, is also listed on Greenwood's 14-site movie tour centered around the movies'  locations.
     www.visitgreenwoodms.com
     
    The Alluvian, winner of the AAA Four Diamond Award, offers luxury accommodations and a complete menu of spa services in the heart of the Greenwood Delta. The boutique hotel teams with the Viking Cooking School to present events and unique classes. Giardina's Restaurant and Bar is adjacent to the hotel and is renowned for its stunning drink menu and gourmet cuisine. The Alluvian is a wonderful destination hotel, ideal for getaways and as a hub for Delta explorations. www.thealluvian.com
     
    Meridian, MS was occupied by Choctaw Indians until an 1831 treaty opened it to European settlement. It is listed on both the Delta Blues and the Meridian 18-site Civil Rights Trail. It was home to Jimmie Rogers, the Father of Country Music and currently honors the MS arts at several locations including a downtown Walk of Fame. www.meridianms.org
     
    The MSU Riley Center contains an artfully restored 1889 Victorian theater, performance space and conference and educational centers. The 3-year theater restoration revealed hand-stenciled wallpaper, and a leather curtain. www.msurileycenter.com
     
    Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience, the MAX, opened April 28, 2018. The Hall of Fame is the 360-degree focal point featuring a 2-story rotunda. The 2nd-floor has 6 galleries with 10 predesigned tours. The galleries are Land, Home, Community, Church, People+Places and Global Community. They are complete with interactives and holograms in over 58,000-sq. ft. of exhibition space. www.msarts.org
     
    Weidmann's is the oldest restaurant in the state. It was founded in 1870 and moved to its current address in 1923. Weidmann's menu consists of southern cuisine based on authentic recipes and regional specialties. Don't forego this treat. www.weidmanns1870.com  
    Grammy Museum
    The 28,000-sq.ft. GRAMMY Museum® is Cleveland's newest addition and the first GRAMMY Museum not in LA. The museum interprets the history of music and the award itself. There are numerous artifacts and opportunities to engage with the music. My personal favorite is a station that allows you to select a song and hear how it would sound  as a recording on a wax cylinder, on a gramophone, on vinyl, on a cassette and in surround sound. A temporary exhibit, "Legends of Motown: Celebrating the Supremes" is on view until Sept 3rd.  Mary Wilson's personal  photographs and costume collection are displayed. www.grammymuseumms.org

    Chef Cole Ellis presides over the Delta Meat Market, a full service butcher shop, grocery store and southern restaurant. Everything is delicious and you will like both the comfort food and the comfort. www.deltameatmarket.com

    barns at Dockery Farms
    Eight miles from Cleveland is the 1895 Dockery Plantation, a true blues mecca. This cotton plantation was home to Charley Patton a seminal blues figure. Robert Johnson, Pops Staples and Howlin' Wolf lived, worked and learned there. Tours are self-guided. Dockeryfarms.org
    BB King memorial stone
    B.B. King called Indianola home and they honor his legacy in the $17.6-million B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center housed in the oldest brick cotton gin, where King once worked. Self-guided tours begin with a 12-minute film and proceed into the chronological story of King's life. Many of the exhibited articles were donated by King himself. He is buried on the museum grounds. www.bbkingmuseum.org


    Hattiesburg has the unique distinction of being both a university and a military town. It has 42-miles of rails to trails and the 1964 Freedom Summer Trail complete with audio guide. Live music is offered every night of the week. www.visithburg.org                           
     
    Camp Shelby's Mississippi Armed Forces Museum is the state's military history museum. The museum serves as the military history museum for the State of Mississippi and memorializes the contributions of Mississippians and those who trained here during war time. Galleries exhibit dioramas, photographs and artifacts from the War of 1812 through the global war on terrorism. There are 6 large exhibition areas and two Halls of Honor. African American military history is integrated into the exhibitions to make their contributions even more comprehensible. Display highlights include dioramas of  a WWI trench and Vietnam medical evacuation.
     
    Hattiesburg's Purple Parrot Café is designated the best fine dining restaurant in Mississippi, second best in the South and winner of six Four-Diamond ratings from AAA. Owner and chef Robert St. John features the freshest ingredients in classic American dishes with a creative creole and Piney Woods twist. Reservations requested. www.purpleparrotcafe.net

    Signpoast at the Crossroads where Robert Johnson reputedly sold his soul to the devil
     
    "Blues musicians don't retire. They drop." Buddy Guy.
     
    TRAVEL TIP:
    An outstanding option is a 'Deep South and Delta Blues' tour with Grand American Adventures tour company. Twelve days, 13 participants, five states, 4 genres of music and an introduction to the Civil Rights Movement combined with unique experiences including Graceland, Beale Street, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans and a photo op at the Crossroads.
     www.grandamericanadventures.com   

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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated. American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.

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