History of the Blues: The Mississippi Delta
The blues is a music genre originating in the Deep South by African Americans. Its roots were established in the Mississippi Delta not far where Jazz was born. Unlike Jazz, the blues didn’t become popular overnight. Over many decades, it slowly began to seep its way out of the rumbling shacks of the south and on to the mainstream airwaves. It’s a musical genre steeped in history and has influenced artists all over the world.
History of the Blues
The origins of the blues start in the mid 19th century and was curated by slaves, ex-slaves, and the descendants of slaves. African Americans sang African chants, African spirituals, and hymns while they worked in the plantation fields. While there is no singular artist on record as inventing the blues, there have been many bluesmen in the early 1900’s who recorded their music. Listening to these recordings, you can hear the direct influence of the African chants and spirituals that inspired them. This rhythmic drum music eventually evolved into what we recognize as the blues.
The evolution took place mostly in the Mississippi Delta just upstream from New Orleans where Jazz was made famous. Unlike Jazz, it took some time for the blues to make its way out of the south and into midwest America. Many musical historians attribute modern blues to W.C. Handy. While again, he didn’t invent the genre, he did his best to organize the construction by introducing 12 bars/measures. Early pioneers like Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, and Handy often played in rambling shacks in the Deep South. As it began to spread, the music evolved and often took on regional characteristics such as Memphis Blues, St. Louis Blues, and Louisiana Blues. The Chicago Blues introduced new instruments like the piano and drums.
Why is it Called the Blues?
It’s entirely possible the name originated from the phrase “the blue devils.” It’s the term used for hallucinations from alcohol withdrawal. Eventually, it was shortened just to “the blues” and the meaning developed to include being agitated or depressed. “The blues” also referred to a couples dance that included slowly dancing together while a “bluesman” played on guitar. These dances took place in the same venues in the Mississippi Delta where Leadbelly and Handy were making a name for themselves. Over time, the dancing, the meaning, and the music became intertwined and interchangeable.
Celebrating the Blues
True fans of the Blues can visit the Mississippi Delta for an immersion into the history and development of this genre of music.
Delta Blues Museum
The Delta Blues Museum was created to preserve and encourage an interest in the orientation and history of the blues. It’s one of Mississippi’s oldest music museums having been established in 1979. Visitors can view a variety of collections that comprise of artifacts, musical instruments, recordings, and sheet music. The Muddy Waters gallery is one of the newest collections opening in 2013. There is a life-sized statue plus memorabilia from his childhood and career. You can also stroll through John Lee Hooker Guitars, see Big Mamma Thorton display, and B.B. King’s trademark guitar
B.B. King Museum
If you’re visiting the Mississippi Delta and are wanting to uncover rich blues history, make a stop at the B.B. King Museum. Having opened its doors just over a decade ago, it’s been receiving amazing reviews for its collections. There are thousands of artifacts to view. Plus, you can find films, stories, and computer interactives that will help bring his story to life. Exhibitions take a closer look at the blues over different decades focusing on the evolution. Guests of the B.B. King Museum are treated to an experience unlike any other. It’s a must-see.
Dockery Plantation was over 25,000 acres of cotton in Dockery, Mississippi. It’s synonymous with the Delta Blues where many musicians were residents such as Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf. The plantation started in 1895 when much of the area was wilderness and Cyprus trees. The land was drained and used for cultivating cotton. The hired sharecroppers were treated and paid respectively which eventually attracted over 2,000 workers. There were workers’ boarding houses and because the area was so remote, many including some famous names used it as an opportunity to play their guitars and hone their talents. Visitors of Dockery Farms today can attend tours, lectures, and occasionally a live performance.
Visiting the Mississippi Delta
At Sweet Magnolia Tours we try to make your trip a special one. Our Memphis to Mississippi Delta Day Tour includes a private car/driver that takes you into the heart of it all. Included in the package is admission to the museums mentioned above, a stop at Dockery Farms, and so much more. You can view the entire package and visit the Mississippi Delta by going to our website.
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