The Delta Blues Museum is located in the former Clarksdale Rail Depot, originally built in 1918 for the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railway (later the Illinois Central), and features about 5,000 square feet of display space in the former freight area as well as a large display area built on to the original Rail Depot. The Rail Depot building is a Mississippi Landmark structure and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places (note-PDF).
Among the Delta Blues Museum’s exhibits is the salvaged remains of Muddy Waters’ cabin at Stovall Farm, where Waters lived for over three decades before being recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941.
The Mississippi Blues Trail marker outside the Delta Blues Museum reads:
“DELTA BLUES MUSEUM – The Delta Blues Museum, the world’s first museum devoted to the blues, was founded on January 31, 1979, by Sid Graves, director of Clarksdale’s Carnegie Public Library. originally housed in a room of the Myrtle Hall Elementary School, the museum moved to the library in 1981, and to this location, a former rail depot, in 1999. Exhibits here have paid long overdue tribute to the history of the blues, while the museum’s education program has trained many young musicians to carry the blues into the future.”
In addition to the original Rail Depot building, a new wing (see photo at left) houses a major portion of the Delta Blues Museum’s collection, including the salvaged remains of Muddy Waters’ cabin from Stovall Farm, just outside Clarksdale, where Muddy Waters lived for over three decades.
Folklorist Alan Lomax made the first recordings of Muddy Waters in 1941 at Stovall Farm.
W.C Handy’s 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues, contains some of Handy’s recollections of the Clarksdale Rail Depot, now the Delta Blues Museum:
“A picture of Clarksdale during the years I spent there would be incomplete without the blind singers and footloose bards that were forever coming and going. usually the fellows were destitute. Some came sauntering down the railroad tracks, others dropped from freight cars, while still others caught rides on the big road and entered town on top of cotton bales. A favorite hangout for them was the railroad station. There, surrounded by crowds of country folks, they would pour out their hearts in song while the audience ate fish and bread, chewed sugar cane, dipped snuff while waiting for trains to carry them down the line.
They earned their living by selling their own songs – ‘ballets’ as they called them – and I’m ready to say in their behalf that seldom did their creations lack imagination. Many a less gifted songsmith has plied his trade with passing success on Tin Pan Alley. Some of these country boys hustled on trains. Others visited churches. I remember buying such a ballet (ballad) entitled I’ve Heard of a City Called Heaven. It was printed on a slip of paper about the size of a postcard. Fifty years later, after I had published a choral arrangement of that piece, I remember hearing the number sung with great success by the Hall Johnson Singers in The Green Pastures…….”
The Ground Zero Blues Club also has online streamed video of performances.
The is also another Mississippi Blues Trail marker on the Delta Blues Museum grounds, for the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival.
This marker reads:
“SUNFLOWER RIVER BLUES & GOSPEL FESTIVAL – The Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, a preeminent showcase for homegrown Mississippi talent, began in 1988 as a promotion to draw area shoppers to downtown Clarksdale. The festival’s dedication to presenting authentic blues soon made it a renowned attraction for blues enthusiasts from around the world, as local favorites began sharing the stage with an international cast of great stars.”