Mississippi: State of Blues

Mississippi: State of Blues

(WLOX) - Mississippi is considered the birthplace of the blues. The unique form of music draws people from around the world to the state.

Born in the Delta with legends like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, the blues changed music in the 20th century and beyond.

The rich musical heritage can be explored from one end of the state to the other on the Mississippi Blues Trail. It's big business and quite an adventure. From the Coast to Clarksdale - and all points in between - historical markers reveal the people, places and events that make Mississippi the birthplace of the blues.

In 2003, the Mississippi Blues Commission unveiled the trail to quench an international thirst for the blues experience.

"There were so many people coming on their own; people from Belgium or Japan, Nebraska, New York. They wandered around looking at highway signs because the Highway 61 sign is so famous. They asked where were the juke joints," said blues historian Jim O'Neal. "Mississippi woke up to the fact that a lot of people are interested and we need to promote it."

In Belzoni, visitors can learn about the deep roots of the blues from a costumed interpreter who slipped into a rocking chair to tell stories.

"They call me Mama of the Blues when I'm in character. I talk about the blues music from the mother land of Africa, to the time it arrived in America, and how we played with it in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta," the costumed guide said.

On any given day, a blues performer entertains visitors in Leland at the Highway 61 Museum. Pat Thomas comes from a long line of blues men - his father was legendary blues master James "Son" Thomas.

The late Great B.B. King was born just outside of Indianola on Berclair Plantation. The multi-million dollar B.B. King Museum features world class exhibits, video presentations and details about King's amazing ascension to the top of the blues world.

The facility, a converted cotton mill, draws visitors to the Delta and shows how blues music is a significant tool for tourism and economic development.

"We are the music mecca. Mississippi has made so many great musicians. For tourists, they love coming here because it's so authentic," said B.B. King Museum director Malika Polk-Lee.

Historic highways 61 and 49 intersect in Clarksdale; the heart of the Mississippi Delta. All roads to the Delta Blues Museum.

There, fans and travelers find out how the blues influenced so much of the American music scene.

"It lives in other genres of music. Once you understand the blues, you hear it in different forms of music. To quote Willie Dixon, 'The blues are the roots, the rest are the fruits,'" according to Delta Blues director Shelley Ritter.

A visit to Clarksdale must include at least one night at Ground Zero Blues Club, co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman. On the outskirts of town, visitors can stay at an old plantation turned into the Shack Up Inn, or catch one of the many events like the annual Sunflower River Blues and Music Festival.

In Bay St. Louis, Jessie Loya and his wife Carrie own 100 Men Hall.

"The most glamorous chapter of the 100 Men Hall is when it was a stop on the old Chitlins circuit. The circuit was a time where there would be clubs for black performers to play for black audiences," said Carrie Loya.

Visitors looking for a fascinating journey, can learn more by visiting the Mississippi Blues Trail website.

Copyright 2016 WLOX. All rights reserved.