Southern Music: From Porches to Palaces

Southern music might be America’s greatest cultural contribution to the world.
No region in the United States has more musical bragging rights than the South, as it is the birthplace of some of America’s most cherished and iconic musical traditions. Groups traveling throughout the region should make time to visit these music heritage sites and enjoy the live music performances in venues nearby.

Ray Charles Plaza
Albany, Georgia
The Ray Charles Memorial Plaza was founded in the heart of downtown Albany, Georgia, in honor of local son Ray Charles, one of the most recognizable faces and influential voices in music history. Charles’ music was transformative and brought together people from all races and all walks of life. Not only a musical inspiration, he also proved that no physical limitations could stop him from pursuing and realizing his dreams. That’s why the city chose to honor him with a memorial plaza.

“The Ray Charles Plaza was part of the redevelopment of downtown Albany,” said Kirsten Rome, group and leisure sales manager for the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau and Welcome Center. “Artist and sculptor Andy Davis wanted to do a sculpture of Ray Charles and designed the whole plaza around the statue.”

Groups can find the life-size bronze sculpture of Ray Charles sitting at his baby grand piano located on Front Street and enjoy a “free” concert by day coupled with a light show at night.

“Visitors from across the United States and internationally come to visit Ray Charles Plaza,” Rome said. The plaza is situated on the Flint River, where interested travelers can find the Greenway Trail. During fair weather, the welcome center rents bikes so visitors can ride up and down the trail and around Ray. Biking is an easy way to see the other nearby sites, which include Riverfront Park, Turtle Grove Park, the Albany Aquarium, and the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau and Welcome Center.

Visitors interested in hearing live music while visiting Ray Charles Plaza need only find their way to the Veterans’ Park Amphitheatre for outdoor performances, or the Albany Civic Center, which offers robust live music and other performance options. Gladys Knight will hit the stage at the civic center in late February.

B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
Indianola, Mississippi
The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, located in the heart of the Delta in Indianola, Mississippi, is dedicated to telling the story of the life, music and legacy of B.B. King and sharing the stories, history and music of the Delta. The museum and Delta Interpretive Center’s stated mission is “to empower, unite and heal through music, art and education and share with the world the cultural heritage of the Mississippi Delta.”

B.B. King, born Riley B. King in the Mississippi Delta, one of the most impoverished regions in America at the time of his birth in 1925, is among the most prominent and influential blues musicians in history. Defying the odds, he became one of the greatest contributors to the development of the blues music genre. He continues to serve as an inspiration for musicians to this day thanks to his musical contributions.

For blues aficionados, the museum and interpretive center offer a wide variety of live music options, from First Thursdays events featuring living music, Delta food and a chance to tour the museum, to live blues music competitions featuring solo, duo and group performances.

Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Eunice, Louisiana
For travelers interested in Cajun music, culture and food, the Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Eunice, Louisiana, is the place to be. The museum is operated by the Cajun French Music Association, a nonprofit organization promoting not only Cajun music but also various aspects of Acadian heritage.

In 1995, the Louisiana Legislature proclaimed the city of Eunice the official site for the Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum. In the museum, artifacts and other fascinating memorabilia are on display, showcasing Cajun music and culture.

“Historically, many Cajun music musicians were family men,” said museum president Todd Ortego. “Carpenters, mechanics and construction workers, who would work a full day to support their families then play three to four shows at night.”

The Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum recognizes those artists who created the musical style. Because of their humble origins, many of them are not well known outside of Louisiana.

“The museum offers travelers the opportunity to know these artists, who they are, where they came from and what they were all about,” Ortego said.

Groups can enjoy live Cajun music performances many weekends in a dance hall called La Poussiere in the nearby town of Breaux Bridge. Cajun music festivals typically take place in the spring and fall at various venues throughout the state.

18th and Vine Jazz District
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City’s Historic 18th and Vine District is not just an intersection but also a historic location for travelers and visitors interested in baseball, barbecue and celebrated live jazz clubs. The district has been home to legends including Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Satchel Page, Josh Gibson, George and Julie Lee, and James “Cool Papa” Bell, among others. Groups traveling to the 18th and Vine Jazz District area will find several well-known live music clubs and the American Jazz Museum, in addition to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and popular barbecue joints.

The American Jazz Museum bills itself as “the nation’s leading institution dedicated to expanding the influence, awareness and appreciation of American jazz.” Its on-site jazz club, The Blue Room, offers a variety of live music options that are open to the public, including Monday Night Jam Sessions, Free Jazz at Noon on first and second Thursday of each month, Free Indigo Hour on Friday evenings, and Friday and Saturday night performances at 8:30 and 10 p.m.

Travelers will have no shortage of opportunities to hear live music, including First Fridays, events for entertainment, which offer a variety of live music options.

The Grand Ole Opry
Nashville, Tennessee
The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, is the stage that showcases country music’s past, present and future. A live radio show that began in 1925, the Opry has been home to the art form’s growth and evolution for over 97 years.

Known as the place where country artists such as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and many others performed at pivotal moments in their careers, the Grand Ole Opry maintains its legacy as America’s premier country music institution. At the same time, the Opry continues to evolve and embrace new variations of country music to ensure it will be around for another 97 years.

“The true history of Nashville cannot be told without a visit and experience at the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry,” said Kristi Driver, tourism sales manager for the Opry Entertainment Group.”

The Ryman Auditorium is perhaps the most famous historic home of the Opry, hosting the show from 1943 to 1974. When the crowds outgrew the 2,200-seat Ryman (which had no air conditioning), Opry organizers built the Grand Ole Opry House, where the show remains to this day.

Tour groups can choose to see a live performance at the Grand Ole Opry on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights, with Wednesday and Thursday shows added during certain times of the year.

“We also have additional shows at the Opry House and the Ryman Auditorium at various times of the year — Opry Country Classics, Opry Country Christmas, and Amy Grand and Vince Gill Christmas at the Ryman,” Driver said. “And our Opry Backstage Tours allow visitors to walk in the footsteps of country music superstars and legends, go backstage to see the dressing rooms, and hear stories of what happens on the ‘other side of the curtain’ on show nights.”

Earl Scruggs Center
Shelby, North Carolina
The Earl Scruggs Center is a museum and performing arts space in Shelby, North Carolina, dedicated to preserving the life and legacy of Earl Scruggs. An accomplished banjo player, Scruggs is known for his contributions to Bluegrass music and helping popularize the genre.

In addition to introducing visitors to Scruggs’ accomplishments, the center also places his story within the context of Cleveland County. The center was started by a group of citizens in Cleveland County with a vision of highlighting Cleveland County’s vast cultural resources.

“Visitors from around the world travel to the Earl Scruggs Center to discover the life and career of the legendary banjo master and the region that shaped him,” said operations coordinator Stephanie Barrett. “Self-guided tours of our immersive long-term exhibits and special exhibits are available year-round and are ideal for classes, business teams, community groups, family reunions, bus tours, clubs and other organizations.”

Travel planners can customize their experiences at the center to fit their groups. Many begin with a step-on introduction to the area and center from a museum staff member. Docent-guided tours of the first-floor galleries are available.

“On the second floor, guests can see a special exhibit gallery that changes twice a year, enjoy a special program for their group, tell their story in our oral history booth and try their hand at bluegrass instruments in our education room,” Barrett said.

Other options include food, wine and live music performances.