Legend has it that a bluesman, Robert Johnson, sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49, near the town of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Then Mississippi became famous for something besides cotton. It's known worldwide as the birthplace of the blues, a sound born in America, to tell a story that could only be told in America.
Muddy Waters, BB King other musicians left Mississippi's unforgiving heat and scorching sun behind them. They traveled north to Memphis, St. Louis or Chicago. The more adventurous headed west to Kansas City and Texas. They left their croaker sacks and hoes too, and took the blues sound to every corner of the world.
It is all there at the two blues museums in Clarksdale. No other city of similar size (20,000) can boast of such a rich cultural history that it needs two museums to celebrate a uniquely American art form. Mississippi Delta blues form grew out of field shouts, work songs and gospel music. This popular music has its roots in the African tradition of call and response, with the instruments and the singer each taking turns. Bluesmen took their themes from everyday life, mostly love found and lost, and the anguish of sharecroppers and field hands. This music, played in shacks called juke joints, relied on acoustic guitar, harmonica and piano when available.
The big city blues style of Chicago began to dominate during the great migration of the 1920s and beyond. The themes changed to the anguish of tenement housing, wanton lifestyles and the oppressive working conditions that came with city life. Singers like Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter and Ma Rainey carved out a place for blues women. Chicago blues added electrification to the guitar, and new instruments like the saxophone and bass joined the chorus.
Free Guitar Video Lessons: learn to play blues guitar
The Blues Foundation: news, festivals, hall of fame
Delta Blues Museum: blues history podcasts
Living Blues Magazine: oldest blues magazine, bi-monthly
Chicago Blues: history of Chicago blues traditions
PBS - The Blues: essays, videos, and links
Mississippi Blues Trail: historic blues tour
Blues Pipe: blues search engine
Robert Johnson Foundation: Robert Johnson's contribution to blues
Tennessee Encyclopedia: W.C. Handy father of Memphis blues
Year of the Blues: video interviews, archives and recordings
Topix: news about the blues
Blues Online: blues styles historical information
The Blue Highway: blues artists, styles and links
Library of Congress: Library of Congress archived recordings
Alabama Blues: women in the blues
You Tube: learn blues chords
Blues Ed: blues education resources
Blues To Do: blues TV, calendar, and reviews
Blues Chord Progressions: important blues definitions
Memphis blues, St. Louis blues, Texas blues, and Louisiana blues all have their roots at the crossroads. Even internationally renowned rock and roll legends eagerly admit taking their cues from blues licks and chords. Their enthusiastic embrace of America's rich blues heritage helped to reinvigorate the blues industry and renew appreciation for it worldwide.