- Where is the Mississippi Delta?
- The Mississippi Delta Blues
- Listen to These Delta Blues Artists
- 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:
Charlie Patton (1891-1934) — Charlie Patton was the first major blues artist to define the Delta blues and is known as the founder of Mississippi blues. As such, he’s a great place to start. There are plenty of recordings of him playing his signature slide guitar.
Son House (1902-1988) — Son House was a preacher and his powerful preacher voice came through his compelling lyrics and a steel guitar. A contemporary of Charlie Patton, Son House is also considered a founding father of the delta blues.
Robert Johnson (1911-1938) — Robert Johnson is amongst the most famous and influential of blues artists. His absolute mastery of guitar was such that the legend still persists that he sold his soul to the devil for the skill. Sadly, there are very few recordings of this legend.
Howlin’ Wolf (1910-1976) — Howlin’ Wolf tried to learn yodeling from a recording he’d heard of Jimmie Rodgers. He couldn’t yodel, but developed a catchy growling and howling sound instead. He learned guitar from Charlie Patton.
John Lee Hooker (1912-2001) — Unlike many of his contemporaries, John Lee Hooker managed to achieve major commercial success with songs like “Boom Boom” and “I’m in the Mood.”
Muddy Waters (1918-1983) — Coming from the Mississippi Delta, Muddy Waters helped to revolutionize the blues sound with electric guitar in Chicago in the post-WWII era.
B.B. King (1925-2015) — The King of the Blues, B.B. King came from a Delta blues tradition. He is known for mixing jazz and rhythm and blues into his Delta blues.
R.L. Burnside (1926-2005) — R. L. Burnside was “discovered” by the mainstream in the 1990’s after more than 30 years of performing. He is a leading figure in the hill country blues style that involves few chord changes and a steady rhythm.
North Mississippi Allstars (1996-present) — The North Mississippi Allstars are a great example of a contemporary Mississippi Delta blues group that is more on the rock side. They are a lot of fun and will rock your socks off!
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.