The city of Clarksdale, situated on the Sunflower River in Coahoma County, Mississippi, is on the northern side of what was the most densely populated area of the Mississippi Delta. At the time of The Great Migration, Clarksdale was the first to welcome Delta farmhands, as well as their musicians and entertainers, on their plight out of the oppressive sharecropping system of the rural plantations and farmlands. Some went no further North, preferring to stay closer to home, seeking refuge and less agrarian employment in Clarksdale.
During the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s Clarksdale was home to Charlie Patton, Bukka White, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Ike Turner, to name just a handful of great bluesmen who staked their claim in Clarksdale.
By the 1950’s Clarksdale was also host to a now-legendary down-home radio station, WROX, which, like other stations in the region, hosted a number of popular bluesmen. Sonny Boy Williamson, most well-known for his King Biscuit Flour program on Helena, Arkansas’ KFFA, often broadcast on Clarksdale radio, as did Dr. Isiaih Ross and so many others.
Consequently, Clarksdale became the first urban center of the blues and it makes the most of that fact even today. The Mississippi Delta’s first blues museum, The Delta Blues Museum, and one of its first yearly blues festivals, The Sunflower River Blues Festival, are both located there, as is the Delta’s first motel made from discarded farm laborers’ shacks, The Shack Up Inn. If you believe in the Crossroads myth, between the town of Clarksdale itself and the site of The Shack Up Inn, there is a rather grandiose marker at the intersection of Highways 61 and 49 where the dubious deal was deemed to have been devined.
A great deal of blues activity has occurred in Clarksdale in the last few years. In addition to all the above, there is a grand juke joint in Morgan Freeman’s & Bill Luckett’s Ground Zero nightclub. It features blues and other forms of music many nights a week and plays host to some of the South’s great entertainers.