Lonely Planet Writer

Grammy museum in Cleveland pays tribute to the Deep South

Cleveland, Mississippi might strike some as an unlikely place for a Grammy museum. Others might find it a resonant tribute to the Deep South and the unique role the Mississippi delta has played in the evolution of popular music.

Second Grammy museum to open in Mississippi.
Second Grammy museum to open in Mississippi. Image by Colby Sharp / CC BY 2.0

The Cleveland museum, which opened on Saturday 5 March, is the second Grammy museum. The first Grammy museum opened six years ago in Los Angeles, home of the Grammy awards. Cleveland itself about midway between Nashville and New Orleans, and not far to the north is Memphis, Tennessee. The town boasts two markers along the Mississippi Blues Trail , and the state of Mississippi boasts more Grammy winners than any other US state, but setting the US$20 million museum here is really about that mighty river just a few miles west.

The Mississippi, the fourth longest in the world, rises in Minnesota and flows 2320 miles (3730km) down to the Gulf of Mexico via New Orleans. The Mississippi watershed stretches from the Rockies to the Appalachian mountains and drains all or part of 31 states and two Canadian provinces.

Mississippi river, New Orleans.
Mississippi river, New Orleans. Image by Greg WIllis / CC BY-SA 2.0

In the Paul Simon song ‘Graceland’, the river is described as “shining like a National guitar” – an instrument synonymous with southern music. The river was instrumental in developing America’s prosperity before the Civil War, when king cotton fueled Britain’s industrial revolution and the river was the most efficient way of travelling north-south. African-American slaves working the cotton fields nurtured musical traditions their ancestors had brought from Africa. Those traditions led to what we now call the blues, the bedrock of rock’n’roll, popularized by Elvis Presley, among others, in the 1950s. But soul, gospel, bluegrass and country music are also a key part of the delta’s traditions.

The museum includes an interactive display that traces the influences – both before and after – of timeless Mississippi musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Sam Cooke, Ike and Tina Turner, and, of course, Elvis Presley, born in Tupelo, Mississippi.