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Six of the best musical landmarks in the Deep South

In the Deep South, the wounds of America’s past have bled and healed to the howls of trumpets, guitars and microphones wielded by the artists who graced these six iconic locations.

By Joe Sills
Published 10 Dec 2021, 15:17 GMT
America’s first country music superstar, Hank Williams, produced 11 number-one hits in an incredibly short career.

America’s first country music superstar, Hank Williams, produced 11 number-one hits in an incredibly short career.

Photograph by Art Meripol

The spirit of America’s Deep South echoes through speakers around the world. Musicians living in the cities, fields and foothills of this storied region have either created or supremely influenced nearly every form of popular music today. These six musical landmarks showcase artists who have had a deep, powerful impact on the places they played in. 

1. Otis Redding Foundation | Macon, Georgia
By the time Otis Redding’s The Dock of the Bay topped the UK Albums Chart in 1968, the King of Soul had been dead for a few months — killed in a plane crash at the age of 26. Redding was one of the most successful rhythm and blues musicians on the planet, and today his legacy is honoured by the Otis Redding Foundation, whose museum in downtown Macon houses a permanent collection of memorabilia from his life and serves as a hub for tours of venues once frequented by the star.

2. Robert Johnson’s crossroads | Clarksdale, Mississippi
Legend has it that one night in the 1930s, Robert Johnson made his way to the intersection of Highways 61 and 49 to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for mastery of the guitar — he then went on to become a leading blues musician. Today, travellers can visit the epicentre of that tale at the Devil’s Crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Brimming with juke joints, tamales and the ghosts of ballads past, the town continues to cultivate a new generation of music icons, including Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.

3. Elvis Presley’s Birthplace | Tupelo, Mississippi
Long before he walked through the gates of Graceland, the King of Rock ’N’ Roll spent his nights in a two-room, wooden shack in Tupelo, Mississippi. Today, you can tour it as part of the Elvis Presley Birthplace site. The museum also features his childhood church, where he first heard the gospel ballads that fuelled his lifelong love of music.

4. The grave of Hank Williams | Montgomery, Alabama
A prolific singer-songwriter, America’s first country music superstar produced 11 number-one hits in an incredibly short career. His life was famously cut short on New Year’s Day 1953, when, aged 29, he died of heart failure in the backseat of a Cadillac, en route to a gig. Today, his grave is one of the state’s most visited sites, and the nearby Hank William Museum houses artefacts from his life and career — including his car. 

5. Dew Drop Inn | New Orleans, Louisiana
For three decades, the Dew Drop Inn was the leading Black music venue in New Orleans. Hosting the likes of Otis Redding, Little Richard and Ray Charles, the hotel and nightclub served as a place for young artists to learn from legends and as a safe haven for Black artists in the then-segregated region. The business violated segregation laws by serving both white and Black customers together, and even fought for the right to do so in court. Though it’s been shuttered since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Dew Drop Inn is set to be restored and reopened as a hotel and music venue in the near future. Watch this space.

6. The Trap Music Museum | Atlanta, Georgia
New York may be the birthplace of hip-hop, but Atlanta is the capital of modern hip-hop. An avant-garde monument to trap music, the museum features a mock-up drugs kitchen and a bubblegum-pink Chevrolet. It aims to plunge visitors into the cultural conditions that inspired chart-topping modern artists like 2 Chainz, Cardi B and Migos.

Published in the October 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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