Putting on a record or popping in your earbuds and listening to your favorite songs offers comfort—just like returning to a familiar place. And when a new song on the radio catches your ear, or when you go off the beaten path to see someplace new, you’re seeking to add a little bit to the edges of your map of experience. It’s comfort, but with a little something extra.
That’s also the story of countless generations of music makers; they build on the sounds they grew up with.
Read on to discover (or rediscover) the places travelers can hear the songs they loved. The following pages take a look at the Blues, from the birth of rock ’n’ roll and soul to the hip-hop radio hits of recent decades.
The Blues and St. Louis
“Two places in St. Louis you need to look into are the National Blues Museum and the Delmar Loop,” says Anthony Paraino of Explore St. Louis.
The National Blues Museum opened in St. Louis in April of 2016, and the attraction’s 15,000 square feet of exhibition space is dedicated to telling the story of the genre’s legendary performers and drawing connections between the Blues and today’s popular music.
In addition to housing a permanent collection of artifacts and multimedia exhibits, the museum regularly welcomes traveling exhibitions and hosts live performances. “Kirk West, Photography” will open next month, displaying images taken by West, a photographer for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times whose subjects included James Brown, B.B. King, Etta James and other household names of rock and the Blues. Regular music events include the Howlin’ Fridays and Soulful Sundays concert series. Special pricing and interpreter-guided tours are available for groups of 20 or more.
The Delmar Loop is a six-block neighborhood packed with restaurants, live music venues and the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
“The Loop has some historic performance venues, including Delmar Hall, the Pageant and Blueberry Hill, an eclectic restaurant where Chuck Berry used to play gigs in the basement performance hall,” says Paraino.
When visitors aren’t listening to live music in the Loop, they can see the names of some of St. Louis’ most notable natives on bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalk. The St. Louis Walk of Fame includes musical luminaries such as T Bone Burnett and Tina Turner, as well as Maya Angelou and T.S. Eliot, among many others.
The King and his castle
Memphis is the realm of the King, and fans of Elvis Presley—and rock ’n’ roll, soul and the Blues—will find no shortage of tour stops in the western Tennessee city.
Graceland was Presley’s home, and millions of his fans have toured the mansion since it opened to the public in 1982. Tours of the home include the Jungle Room, pool room, Trophy Building, meditation garden and Racquetball Building. Fans wanting to see the King’s full glitz and splendor (the rhinestone-studded jumpsuits, pink Cadillac and gold records) will require a ticket that adds Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a 200,000-square-foot complex that includes exhibit and entertainment space.
The Guest House at Graceland, a new hotel adjacent to the music-note-graced gates of the mansion, opened earlier this year. The property offers AAA Four Diamond-rated accommodations, 450 rooms, meeting and event space, and a 464-seat theater for performances and movies.
Group bookings are available for the Guest House, and groups of 15 or more can access special pricing on tour tickets. Student groups are also eligible for discounted rates, and performance opportunities are available.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music features another part of Memphis’ musical history. With no prior knowledge of production, but hoping to capitalize on the success of Elvis, a banker and fiddle player named Jim Stewart founded Satellite Records in 1957. The name was changed to Stax Records four years later, and the studio would go on to produce some of soul’s most recognizable classics.
The museum’s collection traces the origins of soul to its roots in Southern gospel music, and guests can walk through a reassembled Mississippi Delta church that dates to 1906. They can see a replica of Studio A, the movie theater turned studio where Stax artists recorded, and see period gear. And they can bust a move on a dance floor in front of a projection of a vintage episode of “Soul Train.”
The birthplace of hip-hop
New York City performers and musicians have made significant contributions to just about every conceivable genre of music, and the city’s hip-hop MCs are major figures among its recent musical innovators.
On Hush Hip Hop Tours, groups can see the neighborhoods and places where the genre was created, developed and grew to become a major force in popular culture. The company offers bus and walking tours lasting three or four hours and can also include dance instruction and the opportunity to interact with guides and locals who are well-acquainted with the city’s hip-hop culture.
During Hush’s Birthplace of Hip Hop tour, groups ride from Midtown Manhattan, through Harlem and to the Bronx. Along the way, they see the site of the first-ever hip-hop party, other important venues, music video locations and murals dedicated to musical legends. Tour guides will freestyle, and guests have the chance to watch a dance session and try their own moves.
The Dancer’s Delight tour is designed to appeal to body movers of all abilities. Tour guides also serve as dance instructors, and they show groups Central Park, Rock Steady Park and the dance studios that elevated hip-hop movements from the streets to the stage and screen. There also are opportunities for each group member to jump into the center of a dance circle and put what they’ve learned to use.
Top photo: National Blues Museum
Photo by V-3 Studios