New Orleans, Memphis & the Mississippi Delta Blues celebrating the Civil Rights Heroes of the Freedom Trail

"From the cotton fields, street corners and juke joints..."

10 days/9 nights - adjustable to your individual wishes

It is not possible to walk through New Orleans’ French Quarter without a musical rhythm in your step. The city drips with its unique and vibrant swirl of French, African and American cultures, evident in the food, rich music scene and friendliness of the locals.

Mississippi is a unique intersection of history, culture and the arts. In the Delta, blues is a way of life that touches everyone. So ingrained is blues music here that it permeates every particle of Delta dirt. As the B.B. King Museum states on its website, “From the cotton fields, street corners and juke joints…considered by many to be the only truly indigenous American music, this form that has influenced musicians worldwide is deeply rooted in Delta soil.” You don’t just hear the blues, somehow it’s something you can see, taste, touch and certainly one can feel it down to your bones.

Poignant reminders of a difficult past to help us shape a better future together

Mississippi was a crucial battleground in the American Civil Rights Movement. The Freedom Trail was created to commemorate Mississippi’s role in the fight for Civil Rights, to appreciate those brave individuals that fought for justice and equality for all. Although some of the darker aspects of the state’s past are brought to light, the trail is in place to foster hope and promise for a brighter tomorrow. To date, markers have been placed in honor of Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers and other pioneers as well as pivotal locations such as Bryant’s Grocery, where young Emmett Till’s whistle initiated his murder, an event which most consider the catalyst of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Memphis is the cradle of the blues, soul and rock n’ roll but also a centre for gospel, funk, jazz and r&b. The bright lights of Beale Street and the promise of stardom have lured musicians since the early 1900s and the traditional continues – from WC Handy to B.B. King and Elvis to Stax and the voices of the Civil Rights Movement through today. The city is also a place of pilgrimage on the Freedom Trail, particularly the Lorraine Motel where the world lost the great Dr King. In Memphis, all threads weave together into a rich fabric of cultural history.

RECOMENDED DEPARTURE DATES

March – coincide with Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

May/June — coincide with Chicago Blues Festival

October — coincide with King Biscuit Blues Festival

 

TENTATIVE ITINERARY 

Day 1 SA                    ARRIVAL NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans independent arrival, guests are welcomed to spend this afternoon as they choose. Our meeting point is 6pm in the lobby of our tour hotel.

Group welcome dinner together is included at either Galatoire’s or Cafe Amelie followed by a guided evening in the French Quarter. While our main focus is on jazz and blues, places of interest can also include the Old Absinthe Bar for Led Zep fans and Tennessee Williams haunts such as Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Club Carrousel at Hotel Monteleone.

Night On The Town  – Enjoy a guided walking tour evening of live local music and the opportunity for cocktails! A local licensed guide escorts you to live music venues in the French Quarter, Bourbon Street and Frenchmen Street districts of New Orleans. Your guide will show you the way to some of the coolest clubs in New Orleans. You may see jazz, rock, blues and funk bands playing up and down the street or you may see just one band that blends them all together. COST OF DRINKS OR POSSIBLE COVER CHARGES ARE NOT INCLUDED/to be paid directly on the night.

ON New Orleans LA

  

Day 2 SU                NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans – Guided music and African American heritage tour including Preservation Jazz Hall, Armstrong Park and Iberville St.

Our day includes “Music Gumbo” this afternoon, a walking tour that highlights recorded music from early 1900s to contemporary. Experience New Orleans’ premier cultural gift to the world through story, sight and sound. Stand where slaves spent their Sunday afternoons over 150 years ago. Look out on one of the last vestiges of the great operatic entertainment of the 19th century. Explore the links between opera, New Orleans jazz, rhythm ‘n’ blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and more.

This evening is free to enjoy The Quarter as individuals choose.

ON New Orleans LA as above

 

Day 3 02 MO           JACKSON, VICKSBURG

The start of our ‘great American road trip’ today, making the way into Mississippi. Today is full of poignant photo stops and an overview of historic Vicksburg, a backdrop for our explorations of the Delta.

En-route, a stop in Blues legend Robert Johnson’s birth town of Hazelhurst. Here is the first of our Blues Trail markers which are peppered throughout the Delta.

Later a panoramic tour of Jackson MS, the state capital, featuring several pivotal locations, Freedom Trail markers of the Civil Rights Movement. Celebrate the courage of the Freedom Riders, the students of Tougaloo College at the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins and the March Against Fear. Also see Medgar Evers family home, the site of his assassination in 1963, now a small museum that helps preserve his memory.

This afternoon arrive into Vicksburg, the hometown of Mr Willie Dixon. This is an interesting place with a varied, multi-faceted history. Our day will touch on general highlights to better understand the setting for our Blues and Freedom Trail personalities. Vicksburg offers a crossroads of heritage and we will experience a sampling of the scars of the Civil War, the rich maritime past and the local musical history.

Visit the Old Courthouse Museum. Displays are focused on the people of Vicksburg – Native Americans, African Americans, women/suffragettes & their roles in WWII; there is a music room, river history, civil war remnants & a preserved Victorian courtroom to explore. If we’ve time, perhaps a panoramic drive around the Vicksburg Civil War Military Memorial Park, the fields where over 17,000 men still lie is mostly unchanged.

Later this afternoon, some free time to explore the historic ‘olde town’ and meander the riverside murals, perhaps have an ice cream in the Coca Cola Museum if you choose. Those interested, we can arrange a visit to the African American Museum by special appointment.

ON Vicksburg http://www.anchucamansion.com/ or similar

 

Day 4 TU                    DELTA – LELAND, INDIANOLA

Today we make our way into the heart of the Mississippi Delta via the famous “blues highway” Hwy 61. This rural road meanders through cotton fields, beside river levees, across what was plantation country; this is the road that carried the blues out of the Delta and into the recording studios of Memphis and Chicago.

Muddy Waters’ birthplace in Rolling Fork is our first destination, a great photo opportunity. Explore the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland, a place that produced some major influences and early movers in blues and rock n’ roll. “The museum has got about 80 different Delta Blues artists from our area,” says Billy Johnson, the enthusiastic founder of the museum. “Son Thomas was from Leland… His son, Pat Thomas, plays at the museum every day.”

If we’ve time, perhaps go in search of Charley Patton grave at Holly Ridge en-route to the B.B. King Museum in Indianola. Here find thousands of rare artifacts, award-winning films and computer interactives about “Blues Boy” King and the history of the blues. Sadly we now also can pay respects at the great man’s grave here.

During our time in Indianola, see where young Riley King busked on the corner before making a name for himself. Also see Club Ebony, one of the South’s most important nightclubs, from its opening in 1948 through the “chitlin’ circuit” and still today.

Tonight a group dinner is included either at Club Ebony or the hotel restaurant in Greenwood.

ON Greenwood MS http://www.thealluvian.com/index.php OR Hampton Inn http://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/mississippi/hampton-inn-greenwood-GRWHHHX/index.html

 

Day 5 WE                   DELTA – GREENWOOD

A full but leisurely day spent in and around Greenwood with local Delta Blues expert Sylvester Hoover. 

Highlights of the day include:

-Robert Johnson Trail including all 3 of his gravesites, the place where he was poisoned and what might be the famous “crossroads” where he sold his soul to the devil

-Baptist Town & Back in the Day Museum

-Civil Rights Freedom Trail including Emmet Till, Black Power fist symbol & Dr King visit locations

The Help filming locations

-Free time for independent lunch at The Crystal

-Visit to the Museum of the Delta

-Gospel choir mini-concert at First Baptist Church

-Group dinner prepared by celebrated Delta “Country Cookin'” chef Mrs Mary Ann Hoover and evening of live Blues music. If you’ve seen the film The Help (yes, she is responsible for all food featured in the film) or her cooking segments on OWN, PBS or Dateline, then your mouth should already be watering for Mrs Hoover’s home cookin’!

ON Greenwood MS as above

 

 Day 6 TH                    DELTA – RULEVILLE, DOCKERY FARM, ROSEDALE

Ruleville is one place on the day’s agenda. Here honor Fannie Lou Hamer, the former cotton plantation worker who became a valiant voting rights activist, civil rights leader and philanthropist. A memorial garden here marks her life and contributions. On her tombstone is written one of her most famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

The Blues marker at our next visit location asks, “Birthplace of the Blues?”  Dockery Farms was established in 1895 to produce cotton. The African Americans who worked at Dockery, including blues pioneer Charley Patton, created the culture of the blues. In addition to Patton, other legends that played here include Robert Johnson, Son House, Honey Boy Edwards and Howlin’ Wolf.

Rosedale is another notable place today. Perhaps enjoy a lunch of the famous tamales at Joe’s White Front Cafe. As Robert Johnson sang in 1936, “They’re red hot!” Better known for its association with cotton and catfish, the Mississippi Delta has a long-term relationship with tamales. Mexican migrant workers arrived post civil war to help pick cotton and shared recipes with locals in the Delta. Tamales quickly became a staple, a cheap meal using basic local ingredients, corn and pork.

Tonight a special night out at the local juke joint. While many jukes once dotted the Delta countryside, Po’ Monkey’s is one of the few to survive into the 21st century.  Initially frequented by just locals, Po’ Monkey’s has become a destination point for blues tourists from around the world. Our little group should be in good company!

ON Cleveland MS area Hampton Inn or similar, http://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/mississippi/hampton-inn-cleveland-CVLMSHX/index.html

 

Day 7 FR                DELTA – CLEVELAND, MOUND BAYOU, CLARKSDALE

A late start this morning so guests have the opportunity to meander Cleveland as individuals choose, see the model rail museum or peruse the lovely arts & crafts and antiques shops downtown – or maybe even have a lie in. The choice is yours!

Making our way north, see the local treasure McCarty Pottery. Lee and Pup McCarty began making their famous pottery in 1954, experimenting with native MS clays and glazes, they created unique color schemes and their trademark “river” pattern in honor of the mighty Mississippi. McCarty Pottery is known around the world and is very collectable.

Mound Bayou, another stopping point today, was founded in 1887 as the first exclusively African American town. It had a post office, 6 churches, credit unions, insurance companies, a hospital, 5 newspapers and a variety of businesses owned, operated, and patronized by black residents. Mound Bayou’s policy of high morals – no gambling or sale of alcohol and everyone had to be a useful member of the community – resulted in an exceptionally low crime rate. While the rest of Mississippi was violently segregated, here there were no racial codes, citizens voted in all elections without issue.

Our nightstop location is Clarksdale, situated by the intersection of Highways 61 and 49, said to be “the crossroads” where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. This crossroads has a crossed guitar monument as a fun photo op.

During our time here, visit the Delta Blues Museum, the state’s oldest music museum. Housed in the historic Clarksdale freight depot, there are five thousand feet of exhibits including the remains of the cabin where Muddy Waters lived during his days as a sharecropper and tractor driver.

Tonight, another night out of local cookin’ and live Delta Blues music! Spend the early evening at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero restaurant/music venue and, later, the authentically ramshackle juke joint Red’s.

ON Clarksdale MS  http://www.fiveanddimelofts.com/  http://fiveanddimelofts.com/history.php

Choice of staying at (4 star) 5 & Dime flats OR (1 star) Riverside Hotel (the ‘blues hotel’ with Bessie Smith, Ike Turner and other direct blues connections — a very authentic night for those that choose! Subject to availability.)

 

Day 8 SA                    DELTA – CLARKSDALE, BEALE STREET MEMPHIS

Another leisurely start today in Clarksdale so guests can peruse the museums and shops of downtown at their own pace and as they wish; perhaps see the Rock & Blues Museum and/or the interesting Blues themed art galleries and shops such as Cat Head.

This afternoon make the way into Memphis. En-route see the ‘blues hotel’… Since 1944 the Riverside Hotel Clarksdale has provided lodging for traveling musicians such as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Ike Turner, Muddy Waters and Robert Nighthawk. Before that, the building served as the local African American hospital. Bessie Smith died here in 1937 from injuries sustained in a car accident on Hwy 61 while traveling to Clarksdale for a performance.

Enjoy lunch together at the crossroads of 49 & 61 at Abe’s BBQ. Abraham Davis, a Lebanese immigrant, started his pit barbecue in 1924; it moved to its current location around 1936, and Abe’s son Pat renamed it after his father in 1960. Yes, a local greasy spoon but mouth watering food, a local staple! Andrew Clark worked at Abe’s from 1962 to 1990. He says Abe’s is a shrine to the civil rights struggle. “They didn’t see us as colored. They saw us as customers,” Clark says. “It didn’t matter whether you were white or black … I never seen them turn down anyone.” (quote from Wayne Drash article for CNN.)

Next a brief stop at Stovell & Hopson farms, where it’s easy to imagine that this is still a 1940s era cotton plantation. Folks such as Muddy Waters and Pinetop Perkins worked here and we can see the cabins of the Shack-Up Inn nearby, replicas of sharecropper homes lending to the atmosphere.

Tonight enjoy an evening of live music in Memphis on famed Beale Street.

ON Memphis TN Hampton Inn Beale St or similar

 

DAY 9 SU                   MEMPHIS

A full day of iconic places in American history around Memphis. 

Sun Studios was founded as Memphis Recording Service by music pioneer Sam Phillips at 706 Union Ave on January 3, 1950. Reputedly the first rock and roll single, “Rocket 88″ by the Delta Cats, was recorded here in 1951, earning it the title “the birthplace of rock n’ roll.” One of the few studios where all were welcome to record, Sun recorded artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker, Little Milton, B.B. King, James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. Phillips’ most famous discovery was an 18 year old truck driver from Tupelo MS named Elvis Presley.

This afternoon offers a bit of free time to experience Beale Street in daylight. Besides the music venues, along this famous street are the interesting WC Handy House, Schwab’s variety store & soda fountain and Ernest C Withers Expo, a photographer central in the Civil Rights Movement. We recommend Miss Polly’s Chicken, a fabulous greasy spoon for those seeking to be “sancti-fried” fully into the local BBQ culture for lunch. How you spend your time is up to you!

Stax Museum of Soul Music is, in the original building, a replica of the Stax recording studio with more than 2000 videos/films/photographs, original instruments used to record Stax hits, stage costumes, interactive exhibits, and other items of memorabilia. Some of the standout exhibits include a Delta country church to help show the gospel roots of soul music, the Soul Train dance floor and Isaac Hayes’ restored 1972 gold-trimmed Cadillac El Dorado. The focus is on their own artists including Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, the Staple Singers, Booker T & the MGs, Rufus and Carla Thomas, but also features other soul music labels such as Motown, Hi Records, Atlantic Records, and Muscle Shoals.

Stax Museum is especially important as entrance fees support its educational endeavors. Stax Music Academy is a state-of-the-art facility where primarily at-risk youth are mentored through music education and the Soulsville Charter School is an academically rigorous, musically rich school, both of which have transformed the neighborhood with its educational opportunities for local youth. SGT is proud to support Stax and its mission.

Our poignant final visit today is the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine was one of only a few hotels in Memphis where African-American travelers could stay during the segregated era. Guests of the Lorraine, both black and white, returned many times for its atmosphere, home-cooked meals, affordable prices and clean, safe environment. Musicians, many working with Stax Records, were frequent residents including Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Waters, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and Wilson Pickett. Dr Martin Luther King Jr stayed here numerous times, especially when he came to Memphis in 1968 in support of striking sanitation workers. It was here that Dr King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 and his rooms have been preserved in remembrance. Through interactive exhibits, short films/news footage and historic collections, the museum offers visitors a chance to walk through Civil Rights history and to learn more about a tumultuous and inspiring period of change as well as to pay respects to the legacy of Dr King.

This evening is free to guests to explore the Memphis nightlife as they please.

ON Memphis TN

 

Day 10 MO                 MEMPHIS

Another full day of cultural experiences and music in Memphis.

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum is on the day’s agenda. Discover the secrets of German immigrant Jacob Burkle’s unsuspecting and modest home on the outskirts of Memphis, near the banks of the Mississippi River. This property provided refuge for runaway slaves during their flight to freedom from about 1855 through the abolition of slavery. Glimpse what life must have been like for both the runaways and those aiding them on the Underground Railroad.

Lightening the mood with a burnin’ hunk of Elvis, spend this afternoon at his home Graceland. Something everyone should do at least once! Tour the mansion, see the rooms of Elvis’ home opened to the public including his mother’s bedroom, the tv room, his offices, the trophy room lined with gold records, the racquetball court now full of stage costumes and the famous Jungle Room, kitted out in a 1974 era Hawaii theme. Also on the grounds, pay respects to the man himself in the Meditation Gardens. Guests will have free time around the grounds to explore and to lunch at one of the cafes; options include Memphis BBQ platters, salads, veggie burgers, 1950s style burgers and Elvis’ favorite, grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. There is also an old fashioned ice cream parlor for those wanting a sweet treat.

Our finale evening is a farewell dinner together and the opportunity for another evening of live music on Beale Street. Alas, the tour concludes after breakfast tomorrow morning.

ON Memphis TN

 

Why not extend your stay in Memphis? Or head to Nashville Music City?

OPTIONAL CHICAGO EXTENSION IDEA: Chess Records, guided tour ‘Jazz Age’ Chicago. Day on Route 66…Chicago Blues Festival

 

Oft imitated, never duplicated! This itinerary is an original SGT itinerary, property of Special Group Tours and to be used only with express permission/in conjunction with SGT.

Toll Free Tel: 1 866-725-5250
specialgrouptours@yahoo.com

Price based on how many travelers; this is a suggested tour itinerary for private departures, adjustable to best suit your specific wishes

This is a sample itinerary and can be customized to best suit your individual wishes. Rates are based upon vehicle and guide hire per day, number of touring days, number of guests in the party and your chosen level of accommodation. Please note that your final day to day itinerary may fluctuate to accommodate variable opening times/days for listed attractions, special events and places of interest. Please discuss your needs with us for an individual itinerary with rate quote.