a year ago – by Maggie Rossell

The Ultimate Guide to the Mississippi Delta Blues

5 min read
There is nothing quite like the wailing, driving rhythms of the Delta blues.
  1. Where is the Mississippi Delta?
  2. The Mississippi Delta Blues
  3. Listen to These Delta Blues Artists
  4. Learn More About the Blues 

If you love blues music and want to learn about the history, you have to start in Mississippi — the fertile Delta that birthed blues music out of the pain and sorrow of slavery.  

Where is the Mississippi Delta?

The Mississippi Delta gave its name to the genre of blues music that developed there — so a little geography lesson is a good place to start. 

The Lower Mississippi Delta stretches from southern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico in southern Louisiana. However, the Mississippi Delta refers to the section of this broad flood plain in north-western Mississippi. It is here that the long, undulating Mississippi River meets the many armed Yazoo River.

It is a rural area of farms, rich soil, and an even richer culture. In fact, the Mississippi Delta is not only the birthplace of blues music, but of cajun music, jazz, and zydeco as well.  

It was from here that the music — and the culture that gave birth to it — moved up and down the Mississippi River — into Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago to the north and New Orleans to the south. 

The Mississippi Delta Blues

The Mississippi Delta Blues, also known simply as the Delta blues, is the regional style of blues music that was first recorded in the 20s and 30s (though it was likely being played since before the turn of the century). It spread up and down the Mississippi River — and then across American cities. It influenced the sound of blues then and now. 

The style was guitar and harmonica dominated — typically solo performances with one person playing a guitar and singing. The guitar was often played with a bottle neck or piece of metal for sliding up and down the neck to create a wailing sound. The wailing sound could be used to sound like a second voice, as in call and response.  

The lyrics were based on the life experience of living in the Delta — often about love, work in the fields, and life on the road. Songs about sex were often humourously created through the use of double-entendres. 

A true folk music, the blues developed among people in the backcountry, growing up out of slavery, from work chants, call and response, and field hollers. Performers played in Juke Joints and fish frys across the region, including in Helena, Arkansas and Clarksdale, Mississippi.

In the post-WWII era, many of the blues musicians who came out of the Delta helped to develop and popularize Chicago blues, electric blues, and folk blues revival. The Delta Blues also had a huge influence on rock and roll and rap music. 

Listen to These Delta Blues Artists

You can read all about music, but to really get a feel for the Mississippi blues, you need to listen!  Here are some artists to get you started on your Delta blues journey:

Learn More About the Blues 

Are you hooked on the blues? We don’t blame you. The blues is a genre that you can immerse yourself in for a lifetime. 

If you want to become more intimate with the sounds and stories of the blues, get a They Got Blues subscription box with Betterly. 

Every box includes two records, so you can get the sound quality you crave as you listen to these American folk classics. Included with the records are booklets and artwork that will chronicle the history of blues music and the lives and stories of important blues musicians. 

The subscription box will be an unforgettable journey into the Mississippi Delta and beyond. 

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