You know you’re in the right place as a music lover when your accommodations for the night include a record player and two hot blues albums. Welcome to Cleveland, Mississippi.
We were traveling through the Mississippi Delta, stopping in Cleveland, home to the Grammy Museum, Dockery Plantation, Delta State University and other musical landmarks, but also to enjoy the newly opened Cotton House, a boutique hotel. Naturally, the Cotton House emphasizes its town’s musical heritage and we didn’t hesitate to turn that Victrola on.
Once our souls were doused with the notes of the Mississippi Delta, we ventured out to what is known as Mississippi’s hip little town.
Cleveland’s Blues Heritage
Cleveland, Mississippi, sits in the heart of the Delta, a short drive from Dockery Farms plantation, arguably the site where America’s blues was born. Will Dockery operated the southern plantation, hiring African Americans to work the farm and ship cotton off across the country. There, on the steps of the commissary, workers performed a unique sound and shared musical innovations. Among these blues pioneers were Henry Sloan, Charley Patton, Willie Brown, Roebuck “Pops” Staples and Son House, among others. Patton, considered the father of the Delta Blues, grew up here.
Dockery has been restored — although the commissary’s gone — but it’s a visit on your own kind of place. The site is unattended and open from dawn to dusk with videos and audio stations scattered about for those who want to learn more.
At the turn of the 20th century blues musicians from the Delta would eventually head north to Memphis where they would perform and record their songs, many of which landed on the radio. The then new genre of music would influence hundreds of musicians. Many would go on to create rock ’n’ roll and other genres.
Cleveland’s Grammy Museum
The region’s rich musical heritage is one reason why the Recording Academy chose Cleveland, Mississippi, for its first Grammy Museum outside of Los Angeles. The Mississippi museum opened in 2016 and contains both resident and revolving exhibits, plus special events and live performances. Visitors can even record their own songs and learn how to dance! Prices are $12 for adults and $6 for youth (ages 5 and under admitted free).
Next door to the Grammy Museum is Delta State University, otherwise known as the “Fighting Okra.” Be sure to stop at the offices of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning to view the detailed plaster faces of bluesmen created by artist Sharon McConnell. The campus also includes the Dave “Boo” Ferriss Museum, dedicated to the Boston Red Sox pitcher, and the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum.
A long main street through town contains shopping, restaurants and the Cotton House Hotel along what is known as Cotton Row. Visitors will find quaint boutiques, antique shops and plenty of dining options surrounding the new luxury accommodations.
Do come hungry to the Delta Meat Market inside the Cotton House, helmed by James Beard-nominated Chef Cole Ellis. We recommend starting with the hanger steak frites, crispy russet potato fries covered in a decadent Mississippi-created Hoover Sauce and topped with green onions, Maytag bleu cheese and slices of melt-in-your-mouth hanger steak. Entrees range from beef tenderloin and pork chops with blackberry sauce to soups and salads and some of the finest vegetable sides we’ve ever tasted. For drinks, head up to Bar Fontaine on the hotel’s top floor and sip delicious craft cocktails with a fantastic view of town.
Other places to eat in town in Cleveland, Mississippi include:
- Hey Joe’s/Mosquito Burrito for gourmet burgers and margaritas,
- Airport Grocery for barbecue in a bluesy atmosphere, and
- The Senator’s Place soul food establishment begun by then-Mississippi State Sen. Willie Simmons and his wife Rosie. It is now operated by their daughter, Serita, who succeeded her father in the state house.
Heart of Mississippi Delta Attractions
Attractions not to miss include the Martin and Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum in the heart of town, a free-entry museum that includes a massive miniature train set and history of Cleveland. Outside of town, in the small town of Merigold, the McCarty family continues their trademark pottery with both artistic and functional pieces (you may notice the platters used in the Delta Meat Market as McCarty). The McCarty Pottery company began in 1954 with Lee and Pup McCarty and is now carried on by their godsons, Jamie and Stephen Smith.
In addition, Cleveland is home to numerous Mississippi Blues and Civil Rights Markers and the surrounding area offers great outdoors activities.
For more information on Cleveland, the heart of the Mississippi Delta, visit Cleveland Tourism.
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This article was written by Cheré Coen.
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