It was a rainy Thursday night at the legendary Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and the room was packed. The performer—a singer and guitarist known as Mississippi Marshall—paused to ask audience members how many were from outside the United States. Fully a fourth raised their hands, saying they’d come from as far away as Norway, the Netherlands, and Ireland.
Like those visitors, I was a pilgrim from elsewhere—the American Midwest—who had traveled to the Mississippi Delta to honor the blues legends of yesteryear and today. Music historians often credit this region—a flat-as-a-chalkboard alluvial plain between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers—as the birthplace of the Delta blues at the turn of the 20th century.
In the rural reaches of Mississippi’s northwest corner, singers strumming acoustic guitars began playing plaintive laments about their hardscrabble lives. Blues performers carried their songs from run-down wooden juke joints to places like Memphis and Chicago, where the music was transformed into the worldwide phenomenon we know today.
Back at Ground Zero, many of us were making stops at some of the roughly 200 markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail, which commemorates spots where musical history was made. And, of course, we’d come to hear the music—one of the principal destinations being the place we’d congregated that evening. Lodged inside an old cotton warehouse and partly owned by actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman, Ground Zero welcomes mostly regional acts.
But I had a second motivation to come to the Delta. I’m fond of Southern cooking, and I’d heard this part of Mississippi has a distinctive cuisine that both fits in and stands out from the rest of the South. I’d set out to immerse myself in the musical heritage of the trail and sample as much delicious fare as I could along the way. Here are a few discoveries I made in my meanderings across the Delta.