There’s no music quite like the blues, and there’s no place quite like Clarksdale to listen to it.
This musical gem of a city, located on the banks of the Sunflower River in the Mississippi Delta, was established in 1858. At that time, cotton was king, and Clarksdale’s fertile soil and thriving cotton trade earned the city recognition as “the golden buckle on the Cotton Belt.”
But today, thanks to its colorful mix of Delta characters, unique blues venues, and fascinating literary and musical history, the county seat of Coahoma County is known as “the crossroads of American music and culture.”
The city provides visitors with the opportunity to bask in sounds of local blues artists while snacking on a fried green tomato sandwich at Ground Zero Blues Club, owned by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. The Red’s Blues Club, another authentic juke joint, also serves as an unofficial meeting spot for blues travelers visiting Clarksdale from around the world. Other venues include Levon’s, Bluesberry and the New Roxy, a former movie theater turned music club, which is located in Clarksdale’s historic New World district.
“Blues music is performed 365 nights of the year across a variety of venues,” says Bubba O’Keefe, tourism director for Clarksdale and Coahoma County. “And we have local stores, restaurants and galleries that extend that blues culture, places like the Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art and Hambone Gallery, where artists, musicians and storytellers often gather. Plus, you can experience Delta tamales and barbecue at places like Abe’s, Hick’s or Larry’s Hot Tamales.”
See more: Travel Mississippi For Coffee Lovers
While you can find music every night in Clarksdale, “there are times when music fans from across the world flock to town to attend more than a dozen of our music festivals,” O’Keefe says.
After taking in the local talent, immerse yourself in the history of the blues by exploring the Delta Blues Museum.
Here, you’ll be transported to the past through memorabilia, including the childhood cabin of Muddy Waters and guitars played by B.B. King, Big Joe Williams and Clarksdale native John Lee Hooker. Exhibits also provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the lives and music of legendary blues artists, as well as how blues music grew and changed during the Great Migration from the South.
Visitors will also gain a new appreciation for the area that gave birth to the blues while ambling down the Mississippi Blues Trail. The 15 trail markers in Clarksdale and Coahoma County tell stories of blues artists and how their music was influenced by the area. You can learn about Ike Turner, who was born in the Riverside neighborhood and began his career playing blues and boogie woogie piano in Clarksdale. Another marker details the life of Sam Cooke, who was born in Clarksdale and went on to popular acclaim for songs like “You Send Me.”
See more: Why You Should Visit Oxford This Summer
The Hopson Planting Company marker is another stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Blues pianist Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins worked at the cotton gin and later played with Muddy Waters. The former site of the planting company and plantation is now the Shack Up Inn, which provides visitors with unique accommodations featuring modernized sharecropper shacks. You can also enjoy live music on site in the Juke Joint Chapel.
Clarksdale also claims a chapter in literary history. As a child, playwright Tennessee Williams called the town home.
“He lived in the St. George Episcopal rectory, where his grandfather was the church director,” O’Keefe says. “Williams’ work is filled with references to Clarksdale and neighboring towns, and he even used the names of some local residents in his plays, including Blanche Clark Cutrer, thought to be the inspiration for Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.”
In celebration of this revered literary icon, Clarksdale hosts the annual Tennessee Williams Festival each fall. The weekend kicks off with a celebration at the historic Cutrer Mansion. For three days, Williams’ fans and scholars enjoy film screenings, porch plays, expert panels and tours of historic Clarksdale.
A Tennessee Williams trail marker will be unveiled at this year’s festival, O’Keefe says, and visitors will be able to tour the Tennessee Williams Rectory Museum, which opened earlier this year.
While Clarksdale has a rich link to the past, it is also a thriving community that encourages the next Muddy Waters or Tennessee Williams.
“For many years, the community has supported the Delta Blues Museum’s Arts & Education program, where young people are taught to play blues,” O’Keefe says. “They come after school and are coached and mentored. It’s a living, breathing program that encourages blues legends in the making, including Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram, a Delta Blues music program participant who is now touring with Buddy Guy.”
He also points out that the Tennessee Williams Festival, which is sponsored by Coahoma Community College, inspires area students in the literary and performance arts by including a student acting competition.
“When guests visit Clarksdale, they will find a historic small town that offers a unique experience,” O’Keefe says. “It’s an experience that is rooted in the blues and the Delta tradition, but that also has a vitality that engages people and draws them back.” |