Birthplace of the Blues

Tupelo 2 017A section of the Old Natchez Trace

Standin’ at the crossroad, I tried to flag a ride. Didn’t nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by– Cross Road Blues, Robert Johnson

The Mississippi delta is often referred to as the birthplace of the blues. There is a lot of justification for this claim with Mississippi-born blues artists such as Robert Johnson, Howlin’Wolf, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, James Cotton and many others. But is being the birthplace of the blues really something to be proud of? Doesn’t it imply that there were a lot of depressed people in Mississippi singing the blues? Regardless of the reasons why blues music developed where it did, it is clearly one of the major American contributions to world culture, also leading to jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.

Last week our travels followed the 500-mile long Old Natchez Trace from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.  A “trace” is a path, trail or road made by the passage of animals, people or vehicles. In the case of the Natchez Trace, it was probably formed by the migration of large animals such as bison and deer, and later it was used by Native Americans. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it became the major land route connecting the eastern States and major trading ports on the lower Mississippi River.

Before steamboats, boatmen would bring goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez and New Orleans on wooden flatboats.  The boats could not go back upstream so they were typically sold for lumber and the boatmen then walked home along the Trace from Natchez to Nashville.  After steamboats became the primary means of river transport, the Trace lost its importance as a major trade route. However, many historic sites along the Trace have been preserved and the Natchez Trace Parkway provides a scenic drive from Natchez to Nashville.

We began last week at Natchez State Park just outside of Natchez. Natchez is a very quaint town that has not changed much since the Civil War. It was once a major trading center on the Mississippi River but its economy declined when railroads started replacing steamboat traffic.  Tourism has been a major part of the local economy for some time so you might say that, like Blanche DuBois, Natchez has “…depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Natchez Collage

Two of the many antebellum homes that can be found in Natchez–on the left is Stanton Hall and on the right is Longwood that was started before the Civil War but never completed.  By the way, antebellum means “before the war” and typically is used to refer to the period before the Civil War.

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 The steamboat, American Queen, was in port when we were in Natchez.  They offer cruises on the upper and lower Mississippi River as well as the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.

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Natchez State Park is located on a small man-made lake that is a relaxing place to paddle.

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Patty likes to help clean up the places we kayak so she carries her “grabber” with her while paddling.

Hunting Collage

 We ran into these signs while kayaking. located about 30 feet from each other. We were not sure why hunters were a concern if no hunting was allowed but the ticks alone kept us out of the woods anyway.

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Heading back to our camp site

After Natchez, we drove north to Trace State Park near Tupelo, Mississippi.  Known primarily as the birthplace of Elvis, Tupelo is a very nice little city.  Just over a week earlier, a major tornado had hit a portion of the city and the damage was still very evident.

Elvis Collage

Some of the historic sites in Tupelo—on the left, Elvis’s boyhood home and on the right, the Lyric Theater where Elvis (probably) went to the movies. Several of the Elvis “landmarks” were not too impressive including the library where he got his first library card (we used their Wi-Fi!) and the location of a former grocery store where he used to sit on the porch, listening to music.

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Waffles and chicken—we had seen this on the menu in several other locations including Austin, TX so Ed had to try it. The waffles were deep-fried to eliminate any concerns that this meal could be healthy.  It’s the only meal we have ever ordered that gives you the choice of maple syrup or sausage gravy toppings.

Tupelo Tornado Collage

Some of the tornado damage in Tupelo—cleanup and rebuilding were underway and life appeared to be getting back to normal.  The annual Gumtree Arts Festival was held in Tupelo the weekend we visited.

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Our camp site at Trace State Park—our best waterfront site yet with water on three sides.

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The Meriwether Lewis monument and burial site on the Old Natchez Trace. Only three years after returning triumphantly from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Lewis stopped at an inn while traveling on the Trace and apparently committed suicide. Ed is a big Lewis and Clark fan (who isn’t?) and recommends reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.

7 thoughts on “Birthplace of the Blues

  1. Hey, Ed! f  Just wanted you to know I didn’t forget. Hope you’re having a good day.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Love, Mom

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