Clarksdale is in the heart of the Mississippi Delta cotton country. It's no surprise, then, that it's also one of the cradles of the Delta blues, the earthy music created largely by black cotton workers beginning in the early 1900s. A listing of musicians from Clarksdale and the surrounding area is a who's who of blues greats and a respectable lineup of R&B, jazz and pop stars as well. To name just a few, Son House, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner and Sam Cooke were born in Clarksdale, and Bessie Smith died there. Muddy Waters lived at Stovall Farms, south of Clarksdale, and Sonny Boy Williamson is buried at Tutwiler. Early blues man Charley Patton may have first worked up the blues style at Dockery Farms (a former plantation south of Clarksdale), and Robert Johnson died at Greenwood (there are two monuments to him south of nearby Itta Bena). The legendary crossroads where Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the Devil to improve his guitar playing may lie somewhere in the area: Your best bet is to pick out a lonely rural intersection, wait until midnight and see who shows up.
An easier way to learn about the music is to visit the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale (located in a renovated train depot). It chronicles the music from its beginnings with a mixture of photos, memorabilia, books and records. The exhibits are short on high-tech gizmos but long on substance. Occasional concerts take place at the museum. You can also get a big dose of the blues at two annual festivals in the area: the Sunflower River Blues Festival in Clarksdale (early August) and the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival in Greenville (mid-September). Greenville is also the site of Winterville Mounds State Park, which has one of the Mississippi Valley's largest concentrations of Indian burial mounds. A museum at the site explains their significance. Clarksdale is 135 mi/215 km north of Jackson.
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