Located in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the Rock and Blues Museum is a nonprofit museum showcasing memorabilia connected to the history and evolution of popular American musical forms, including genres associated with blues and rock and roll music. Clarksdale’s Rock and Blues Museum is a project of the Rock N’ Roll Museum, Inc., a nonprofit charity that strives to preserve the history of American popular music genres, primarily focusing on 20th-century blues and rock and roll subgenres such as rockabilly, rhythm and blues, hard rock, and punk rock.
The organization originally opened its Rock and Blues Museum in August of 1997 in the Netherlands. In 2006, the museum was relocated its current permanent location in Clarksdale, shifting its focus to emphasize blues music contributions by Mississippi Delta artists throughout the 20th century. Today, the museum is operated as a nonprofit public charity run through admission fees and private donations and contributions.
The museum’s collections span a variety of American rock and blues music memorabilia, focusing on artifacts from the 1920s through the 1970s. The evolution of rock and blues music forms is chronicled, from the early fusions of rockabilly and rock and roll through later forms such as soul, rhythm and blues, hard rock, punk rock, and psychedelic rock. Particular emphasis is placed on the Mississippi Delta roots of the genres, highlighting influential early Clarksdale artists such as Sam Cooke, Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. Early rock icons such as Elvis Presley are also highlighted, along with artists from around the world influenced by American musical movements.
Museum exhibits are arranged chronologically, starting with a 1905 Edison phonograph and early examples of moulded records and sheet music. A record of Perry Bradford’s 1920 hit “Crazy Blues,” performed by Mamie Smith and widely considered to be the first blues record released, is displayed, along with records of other early hits such as Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues” and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues.” Instruments of early blues musicians are showcased, including a Crossroads guitar owned by Honey Boy Edwards. A variety of memorabilia connected to Delta Blues icon B.B. King is also on display, including an autographed guitar and photograph and original concert ticket stubs from early performances.
In the museum’s Rock and Roll exhibit, the first rock and roll record, Ike Turner’s 1951 hit “Rocket 88,” is displayed, as well as Elvis Presley’s breakout 1954 cover of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right.” Movie posters from early rock films such as 1956’s Rock Around the Clock and Shake Rattle and Roll are showcased, along with memorabilia connected to early teen idol and rock icon Buddy Holly, including his 1959 death certificate following the Day the Music Died plane crash. The British Invasion of the early 1960s is chronicled with a variety of Beatles memorabilia, including a poster from their 1964 Shea Stadium concert signed by protomer Sid Bernstein and early licensed merchandise items such as lunch boxes and gumball machines. Items connected to other seminal 1960s artists is also displayed, including a 45 rpm of the Rolling Stones’ debut 1963 single “I Want to Be Loved,” a tour jacket owned by Ray Charles, and an original stage prop surfboard used by the Beach Boys.
The Woodstock era of psychedelic and folk rock is represented by a collection of protest buttons, Woodstock concert tickets, and original magazine articles, along with a copy of Jimi Hendrix’s European Electric Ladyland album. A tour guitar used by the Doors is autographed by Rob Krieger, and autographed memorabilia of the Who’s includes their original Woodstock contract receipt. Other notable 1970s memorabilia includes a copy of the Velvet Underground’s Andy-Warhol-designed album cover and a Led Zeppelin guitar autographed by band members Robert Plant and Jimi Page. A small collection of post-1970s memorabilia is displayed at the end of the museum, including a rare complete set of John Lennon lithographs and newspaper coverage of Lennon’s assassination in 1980. At the end of the museum’s galleries, a theater plays the documentary Cheesehead Blues, which details local Clarksdale music culture through a look at the city’s Second Street Festival.
Ongoing Programs and Events
Guided and self-guided tours are offered for small groups and educational organizations, including tours tailored to incorporate Mississippi curriculum standards. The Rock and Blues Museum is a sponsor for a number of annual Clarksdale music festivals, including the famed Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in August, which highlights local traditional blues and gospel musicians. Other annual festivals include the Clarksdale Caravan Music Festival, held in May following the city’s Blues Music Awards, and the Halloween weekend Hambone Music Festival.
113 E 2nd St, Clarksdale, MS 38614, Phone: 901-605-8662