The Mississippi Delta: A Quick & Dirty Geography Lesson

I’m not from this country, first of all, so my own introduction to the Blues, or what I thought was the Blues, didn’t come from the area most associated with the Blues. In fact, the first time I encountered any sort of music that even vaguely associated with the Blues was in Ray Charles’s cover of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” in the 2001 animated Metropolis film.

But I digress. Have a map of Mississippi:

DANG IT'S A SWEET MAP.

I don’t know much about the geography of the US, so my first stop was an obvious one: Mississippi Delta Tourism Association’s official tourist site. It sells the place as an adventure for the types who like to take the backroads instead of the interstates, where every stop has something fun and unique, taking particular interest in the music found there. The site quotes a famous author about the region, saying that it “begins in the lobby of The Peabody Hotel and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg” (Cohn).

In actuality, the area known as the Mississippi Delta is a large, northwest part of the state, where the Mississippi and the Yazoo rivers run parallel, bordering the place in a large flood plain, which, according to historian and author Ted Gioia, is “shaped like the leaf of a pecan tree hanging lazily over the state” (1). It used to be an inhospitable wilderness, until it was deemed fertile ground for then-prospective, soon-successful cotton plantation owners before the U.S. Civil War. Here, fields of white were dotted by the slaves sent out to pick them from sun up to sun down while plantation owners sipped on their tea. Out of the thick, unyielding soil, however, something else took root. From the combined musical traditions of the slaves, the church and the country, the Blues grew.

Have another, more detailed and modern road map:

It may seem small, but this little floodplain became the roots of some of the most popular musical styles ever, and the backbone of music as we know it. It always helps to know a little geography.

References:
– Gioia, Ted. Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music. NY: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.
– Cohn, David L. Where I Was Born and Raised. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1948. Print.