A Rich History of Blues Music in the Mississippi Delta
Mississippi and the blues go together like gravy and mashed potatoes, or Scarlett and Rhett from Gone with the Wind. Melancholy, soulful blues music and the genres it has inspired were shaped by the early African American voices of Mississippi, a state rich with musical history and sites that honor it.
Today, most of the original Delta Mississippi bluesmen have passed on — but at least one, Lou “Bud” Welch, is still kicking. At 83 years old, Lou recently released his first ever CD, entitled “I Don’t Prefer No Blues.”
Delta Blues: A brief history
The blues as we know them are widely thought to have been born in the Mississippi Delta, a section in the state’s northwest between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. But the blues’ story extends back much further: notably, as far as the coasts of Africa, when men, women and children were taken as slaves to American plantations. Various musical traditions from African tribal music and cultures blended together in America, manifesting as songs of hope and despair, which slaves sang without instruments to get through grueling work and cruelty.
Post-slavery, African Americans developed this music further, incorporating influence from Christian hymnals and American instruments, all the while enduring hardships under Jim Crow laws and Klu Klux Klan oppression. Music was an escape, and during the Civil War it emerged as part work-chant, part sorrow song. At the turn of the 20th century, the blues were a distinct and recognizable style performed by bluesmen at venues around the Mississippi Delta region.
Record companies first realized the potential market and began to record and produce blues musicians in the 1920s. Artists spread the style throughout the country, where it influenced almost every later genre including jazz, hip-hop, country, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Mississippi Blues Trail
Mississippi is full of sites that hold significance in the world of blues music. For blues enthusiasts, tourists, or general music lovers, the Mississippi Blues Trail marks historical sites related to the birth, growth and influence of blues music throughout Mississippi, with the largest concentration in the Delta region. Some markers are located outside of Mississippi, if they are important enough — like the Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee.
What exactly can one hope to find along the trail? Roadtrippers eager to follow the history of blues music can travel between over 170 markers, which honor individuals, venue, recording companies, historical events, radio stations and other hubs of blues activity.
First implemented in 2006, the Mississippi Blues Trail tells the stories of the talent behind one of the most important genres of music in America, perhaps of all time. From B.B. King to Charley Patton, individual pioneers and the places they created and performed at live on through these markers.
Lou “Bud” Welch may be among the last bluesmen, but the genre is sure to outlive even him. The blues have been immortalized as much in Mississippi Blues Trail, but more importantly, they persist continuously in their influence of over a century of musical evolution.