Skip to main content
  • Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee
    View more

    A Nod to Past and Present in Memphis, Tennessee

  • The King Biscuit Blues Festival, a hallmark event in Helena, Arkansas
    View more

    Helena, Arkansas: A Small Town with a Big Blues History

  • Big Mama Thornton exhibit at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi
    View more

    Blues Legends and Festivals Surround Clarksdale, Mississippi

  • Childhood home of playwright Tennessee Williams in Columbus, Mississippi
    View more

    History Around Every Corner in Columbus, Mississippi

  • Birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi
    View more

    Walk in the Steps of Young Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi

  • Performing at the W.C. Handy Music Festival in Florence, Alabama
    View more

    Source of the Sound in Florence and Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Blues legend B.B. King, born in Mississippi, performs in Memphis, Tennessee
View more

Sounds of the Delta

  • Route distance:
    684km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Celebrating an American art form

There are few regions that have given rise to as many music stars as the Mississippi Delta. In this melting pot of slaves and sharecroppers, from despair came the blues. From the fields grew gospel. From rogues and unlikely collaborators came rock ’n’ roll and soul. Designated trails like Bridging the Blues and the Mississippi Blues Trail will link you to the fields, shacks and impossibly small studios that remind us where this uniquely American art form came from, while festivals and venues showcase a new generation of American roots musicians.

01
Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee
View more

A Nod to Past and Present in Memphis, Tennessee

Step out of the Memphis International Airport into the cradle of many American music genres, from rock ’n’ roll to soul to blues. This city is a history lesson set to music, though its biggest claim to fame is as the home of Elvis Presley. First, head to Union Avenue and tour Sun Studios, where Presley recorded his first song, and then move on to Graceland, the compound his eventual stardom built, just 10 minutes away.

Stop at Stax Museum of American Soul Music, formerly Stax Records, where Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes gained fame. Hear their story and just try to not dance your way through the exhibits. On nearby Beale Street, catch a show at B.B. King’s Blues Club, and then follow along the Brass Note Walk of Fame, a path of 150 notes embedded into the sidewalk and inscribed with the names of Memphis’ music idols. Listen to Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum’s epic playlist of music while studying the artifacts. Add an audio walking tour of Beale Street to imagine jazz and jug bands, and walk through the Memphis home of W.C. Handy, the artist who gave blues its modern form. Set your radio dial to the blues, gospel and rockabilly stations on your way to Helena.

113 km
2 hours by car
02
The King Biscuit Blues Festival, a hallmark event in Helena, Arkansas
View more

Helena, Arkansas: A Small Town with a Big Blues History

In downtown Helena, orient yourself to historic Cherry Street, the anchor of this charming small town chock-full of music. At the Delta Cultural Center, listening stations let you sample Delta musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson, developing your ear for the region’s blues and gospel traditions. For the maximum experience, time your visit with the center’s live broadcast of the King Biscuit Time radio show hosted by Blues Hall-of-Famer “Sunshine” Sonny Payne since 1951. You can also sit in on a broadcast of the center’s own Delta Sounds radio show, a showcase of blues, gospel, rockabilly and country. When you’re in the mood to party, head to the King Biscuit Blues Festival in early October. The four-day event offers a range of performances; previous artists have included Bobby Rush, Robert Cray and Greg Allman. When you’ve had your fill, hop on U.S. 49 and take it south to Clarksdale.

48 km
1 hour by car
03
Big Mama Thornton exhibit at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi
View more

Blues Legends and Festivals Surround Clarksdale, Mississippi

Clarksdale’s storied musical history is alive and well in the sites, trails and other landmarks the city has proudly preserved. To truly explore the Mississippi Blues Trail’s Delta region, Clarksdale makes a good base, with nightly live blues and vibrant events, including April’s Juke Joint Festival and August’s Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival. View the remains of Muddy Waters’ cabin and John Lee Hooker’s guitars at the Delta Blues Museum. A skip away, hit the memorabilia-packed Rock & Blues Museum and Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, a store for the blues-curious and devotees. Take a jaunt to Greenwood and let Delta native Sylvester Hoover show you where Robert Johnson lived, jammed and died on his Delta Blues Legend Tours. A quick drive to Indianola takes you to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, which details King’s life from sharecropper to icon. To celebrate it all, grab a folding chair and go to Greenville for the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival in September or the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival in October. On your way out, pick up a barbecue sandwich and fries from Abe’s Bar-B-Q for the drive to Columbus.

267 km
3 hours by car
04
Childhood home of playwright Tennessee Williams in Columbus, Mississippi
View more

History Around Every Corner in Columbus, Mississippi

East of the Mississippi Delta region, Columbus’ story lives in its vibrant districts, historic venues, architecture and hometown characters. Blues Trail markers can help guide you through town. Make a stop at the colorful first home of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams on Main Street, then marvel at the sturdy low-country architecture displayed in The Haven, built in 1843 by two free black men and located in the historic district. Tour pillared Whitehall mansion, once a Civil War hospital, for an example of the period’s sometimes-expansive home design. If you’re around in spring, Columbus’ annual Spring Pilgrimage lets you take house and church tours, carriage rides and attend the Catfish in the Alley festival. This day of live blues music and fried fish is an homage to Columbus’ former Catfish Alley, an African-American district where fishermen came in and bluesmen played. Don’t leave for Tupelo without having a mint julep; it’s Columbus’ signature drink and is liberally handed out at the festival.

111 km
1 hour by car
05
Birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi
View more

Walk in the Steps of Young Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi

Tupelo connects you to a young Elvis Presley and to the unstoppable spirit of pioneering blues musicians. Definitely tour the Elvis Presley Birthplace and consider the contrast between this modest two-bedroom house and Graceland’s epic proportions. While there, step inside Presley’s childhood church, relocated here, where you’ll hear a young Elvis singing “Jesus Loves Me.” Read what family and friends have said about him on the Story Wall. In June, the Tupelo Elvis Festival presents local, regional and national musicians, including a Sunday gospel concert and an Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. After taking it all in, grab a dough burger from local favorite Johnnie’s Drive-In, where you can sit a while and chat with locals. Stop by the former site of Shake Rag, a stopover for African-American traveling musicians, before you travel on to Muscle Shoals.

More information
145 km
2 hours by car
06
Performing at the W.C. Handy Music Festival in Florence, Alabama
View more

Source of the Sound in Florence and Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Just as Memphis trademarked the Memphis Sound, the Muscle Shoals Sound distinguished this region. In the 1960s, a string of No. 1 hits from local recording studios led to it becoming known as the Hit Recording Capital of the World. The standard stops on a tour here are FAME Studios, one of the biggest producers of the sound and still operating, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, which showcases the state’s biggest figures in the industry through exhibits and a Walk of Fame. Head to Florence to see the cabin where the “father of the blues” was born at the W.C. Handy Birthplace, Museum and Library. Consider visiting In July for the W.C. Handy Music Festival, when 10 days of live music percolates throughout Florence.  If you want to hear live music in one of the South’s most unusual locations, head to Tuscumbia’s Rattlesnake Saloon. You’ll be put into the back of a pickup truck, ride down a dirt road, and discover a fun western saloon and dance hall under a large but shallow cave. There’s no better way to end your journey before heading to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Explore more

A boat zipping through the Atlantic Ocean near the shore
View more

Destination

Surfside