Twang & tourism: Mississippi Country Music Trail tells genre’s story
by Ross Reily
Published: March 28,2014
In 2006 when the Mississippi Blues Trail was still in development, Malcolm White told the Mississippi Business Journal he thought a similar trail honoring the state’s country music heritage was a “distinct possibility.”
Four years later, the Mississippi Legislature ended all doubt and the Mississippi Country Music Trail was born. Today, the trail is comprised of 25 markers and is still growing.
While the establishment of the Mississippi Country Music Trail was a team effort, one backer offered some high-profile support. In 2009, country recording artist and Mississippi native Marty Stuart personally lobbied the Mississippi Legislature for the formation of the Mississippi Country Music Trail. Stuart, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, Miss., would officially announce the trail on March 1, 2010, during the Governor’s Conference on Tourism and was present when the first marker, honoring Elvis Presley, was unveiled in Tupelo.
As with White, who now serves as the state’s lead tourism official with the Mississippi Development Authority, Stuart told the MBJ the success of the Mississippi Blues Trail was a major factor in his backing for the Mississippi Country Music Trail.
“Absolutely it was a factor,” said Stuart, a multi-Grammy Award winner who began his professional career as a teenager playing in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band and was Johnny Cash’s guitarist (and son-in-law) before starting his successful solo career. “I felt if it worked for the blues, it would work for country music, too.”
Stuart added that the common heritage shared by the blues and country music was another plus, and he hopes both trails are telling that story.
“Like blues, country is the music of the common man and woman, and has as its foundation the church,” said Stuart, who now has a marker on the trail. “My wife (Country Music Hall of Fame member Connie Smith) calls country music a ‘cry of the heart.’ That’s the story I hope visitors are taking away from the Mississippi Country Music Trail.”
Based off the design of the markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail, Mississippi Country Music Trail markers are an attractive burgundy and include not only text but also images and icons.
The markers stretch across the state from the hills of Northeast Mississippi (Elvis Presley, Mac McInally, Tammy Wynette) and the Delta (Conway Twitty, Charley Pride, Ben Peters, Hank Cochran, Johnny Russell, O.B. McClinton) to the Piney Woods and the Coast (Bob Ferguson, Carl Jackson, Elsie McWilliams, Jesse Rodgers, Jimmie Rodgers, Marty Stuart, Leake County Revelers, Moe Bandy, Sparta Opry).
For more on the Mississippi Country Music Trail, including a map with driving directions, as well as information on concerts, festivals and other country music-related events, visit www.mscountrymusictrail.org.
Mississippi’s Country Music Legends
Jimmie Rodgers — Meridian
The story of country music begins with Meridian’s Jimmie Rodgers. The “Father of Country Music” died young in 1933, but not before recording songs that would inspire artists across the genres of country, blues and rock and roll. To illustrate, Rodgers, also referred to as “The Blue Yodeler” and “The Singing Brakeman,” is a member of not only the Country Music Hall of Fame, but also the Blues Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his music has been covered by everyone from Merle Haggard to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“Elvis Country” — Tupelo
While universally hailed as the “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley made the country music charts more than 50 times over his career. A native of Tupelo, Presley’s number one country hits include “A Fool Such As I,” “Always on my Mind,” Green, Green Grass of Home” and “There Goes My Everything.” He was originally billed as “The Hillbilly Cat,” and was a regular on the seminal country music radio show “The Louisiana Hayride.” Presley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998, 21 years after his death.
Charley Pride — Sledge
The son of a Delta sharecropper, Charley Pride would go on to be the most successful African-American country music artists of all time. Pride, a native of Sledge, recorded 52 top 10 singles, 28 of them number one hits. His biggest hits include “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” “All I Have to Offer You Is Me” and “Crystal Chandelier.” Pride was voted the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1971, the top male vocalist of 1971 and 1972 and became a regular cast member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1993. In 2000, Pride was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tammy Wynette — Tremont
Raised on her grandparents’ farm near Tremont, Tammy Wynette’s voice — and determination — earned her the title “The First Lady of Country Music.” Her career included 20 number one country hits, including the iconic “Stand By Your Man,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “I Don’t Want to Play House,” and she would dominate the charts in the 1960s. A multi-instrumentalist who lived in near-poverty until finding fame, Wynette died in 1998 and was inducted posthumously into the Country Music Hall of Fame a few months later.
Conway Twitty — Friars Point
Dubbed “The High Priest of Country Music,” Conway Twitty first achieved stardom in rockabilly. But he switched to country music in the 1970s, and would go on to record an unprecedented 50 consecutive number one country hits, including “Hello Darlin,” “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” and “Slow Hand.” His career was defined by his material, voice and his live performances that left women swooning and men wishing they were him. Twitty died suddenly of an aneurysm in 1993, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
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