By NASH NUNNERY
Travel through the heart of the Mississippi Delta and one thing becomes fairly obvious. Hint: It’s not that the terrain is flat as a dime or that there are millions of acres devoted solely to agriculture.
Be it on a lonely stretch of narrow two-lane ribbon or across the street in a town, everybody waves. If Mississippi is the Hospitality State, the Delta is the gracious gateway.
A day in the Delta is like coming home and no community on the Flatlands is more attuned to family than Cleveland. The city’s downtown district, better known as Cotton Row, overflows with small boutiques and diverse dining opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to check out businesses with names like H-squared, Delta Meat Market, Heidi’s, Punkin’ Patch, Hey Joe’s and Mosquito Burrito?
Residents downplay the emergence of Cleveland as a rising destination. Snarky “Keep Cleveland Boring” tT-shirts are in abundance but the quaint town has an arts-and-culture vibe not found in many larger locales. Home to Delta State University, the Delta Music Institute, 18 blues trail markers, and more recently the Grammy Museum Mississippi, Cleveland is anything but boring.
The announcement stunned the entertainment world in 2011. “And the Grammy (Museum) goes to Cleveland.” Cleveland, Mississippi, that is.
The second and only official Grammy Museum outside of Los Angeles, Grammy Museum Mississippi opened two years ago. Organizers chose Cleveland because the Mississippi Delta is considered the bedrock of American music. It also didn’t hurt that the state claims the most Grammy winners per capita in the world.
The 28,000-square-foot museum is a smaller but updated version of the California museum and features high-definition touchscreens and interactive technology that chronicle American music history from before the Grammy Awards in 1959 to the present.
The $20 million facility was designed with the Delta’s rich history in mind. Corrugated metal and glass are utilized extensively. The entrance to the museum, located next door to the DSU campus, looks like a big front porch.
Inside, visitors are greeted by a gift shop and all five iterations evolutions of the trademark gramophone given to Grammy winners. Grammy Museum Mississippi features a diverse collection of treasures, including the acoustic guitar Elvis Presley played during his famous Sun Records sessions to the multi-colored costume Cee-Lo-Green wore at the 2011 Grammys.
A life-sized screen over a multi-colored dance floor teaches visitors dance moves. For the brave, one can record and produce a song with bluesman Keb’ Mo’, and trace how Mississippians such as Ike Turner influenced musicians along a 12-person, interactive touchscreen table with a timeline that looks like the Mississippi River.
Until September, patrons can enjoy a special exhibit, “Celebrating The Supremes.” On display are several gowns the trio wore during performances and the famous “White De Mink” outfits worn on the ABC-TV series “The Hollywood Palace” in 1966. Rare photographs of the group are featured from the personal collection of The Supremes co-founder Mary Wilson.
Tickets to the museum are $12. Grammy Museum Mississippi marketing manager Nacherrie Cooper said visitors often explore for a few hours, grab lunch and return for the afternoon, all for one price.
“We want our visitors to know Mississippi is the birthplace of American music,” she said.
After a morning of meandering around the museum, visitors often find themselves at The Warehouse, a former grocery warehouse circa 1900s transformed into a sandwich emporium. Its delicious creations, some named for former and current Delta State coaches, are made with gluten-free Boar’s Head meats and fresh homemade bread. Also on the menu are tasty salads, pizzas, soups and homemade cakes like your grandmother used to make.
The restaurant’s rustic wood interior is decorated with vintage signs, a real traffic light and old movie posters on the wall.
Located just north of Cotton Row on Sharpe St., The Warehouse offers large portions and is reasonably priced.
Thirty minutes south of Cleveland as the crow flies is Indianola, hometown of the late, great “King of the Blues”, B.B. King. Bluesmen like King and Robert Johnson influenced nearly every style of popular music including rock ‘n roll, jazz and even hip-hop.
But they don’t call B.B. the king for nothing.
That’s because one of Mississippi’s favorite son’s museum draws visitors from all corners of the globe. The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center averages around 30,000 patrons annually since opening in 2008. With the appeal of the blues strong in Europe, Indianola and the museum entertain many visitors from overseas eager to learn more about the genre.
The museum was built on the site of a cotton gin where King labored before becoming the world’s most famous blues master. Artifacts of King’s life are scattered throughout the facility, including various versions of his beloved “Lucille,” King’s pet name for his guitar. Also, visitors can find a re-creation of his home studio and a frayed quilt his mother made for him.
Photos showing a crowded Front Street in Indianola detail how King used to play on the corner for nickels and dimes. Another harkens back to his Memphis days on Beale Street in the 1940s. The story goes King left Indianola abruptly after breaking the smokestack on his employer’s tractor, later returning to pay for the damages. His rise to fame in the 1950s is documented with a salute to the civil rights movement and the Motown sound.
King’s museum also features memorabilia of other artists, including handwritten lyrics from the late 60s rocker Janis Joplin, a friend of King’s. Other photos and artifacts depicting life in the Mississippi Delta during the 1920s and ‘30s are on display, as well.
Located inside is Lucille’s Gift Shop, offering everything from B.B. King guitar picks to coffee mugs emblazoned with his image.
Located at 400 2nd St. in downtown Indianola, admission to the museum is $15 for adults and $10 for students.
Though a bit off the Highway 61 beaten path, Lake Washington near Glen Allan is a ‘must-see’ while traveling in the Delta. An oxbow lake of the Mississippi River, Lake Washington is approximately 13 miles long with lots of cypress-kneed trees and beautiful home lots. And the crappie fishing is par excellence.
Roy’s Store, located on the north shore of the lake, is a welcome oasis to a weary traveler. The store dates back to the early 1900s, and offers everything from jigs to minnows to plate lunches to wheel cheese to cabin rentals. Its clientele includes farmers, soccer moms, out-of-state fishermen and retired ‘regulars’, who sip coffee and swap fish stories.
An orange Fanta and a Stage Plank cookie from Roy’s is always a sweet conclusion to a day in the Delta.
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