Mississippi Debuts Grammy Museum A new Grammy Museum is opening in the Mississippi Delta. It pays tribute to the region considered to be the birthplace of American music. NPR's Debbie Elliott has a preview.

Mississippi Debuts Grammy Museum

Mississippi Debuts Grammy Museum

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A new Grammy Museum is opening in the Mississippi Delta. It pays tribute to the region considered to be the birthplace of American music. NPR's Debbie Elliott has a preview.


The Grammy Awards are held in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world. So it makes sense that there's a museum dedicated to Grammy winners in LA. But now the Recording Academy has opened a second one in the Deep South. It's in a tiny town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. It opened this weekend, and NPR's Debbie Elliott went to check it out.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The Mississippi Delta is really not a delta at all. It's the flat, fertile floodplain of the Mississippi River, where cotton was king and conditions were harsh for the African-Americans who tended the fields, first as slaves, then as sharecroppers and day laborers. That also made it fertile ground for a new art form.


ROBERT JOHNSON: (Singing) I went to the crossroad, got down on my knee...

ELLIOTT: They say Delta bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play that kind of guitar. I passed his gravestone on my way to the new Mississippi Grammy Museum.

VASTI JACKSON: The Grammys have come home.

ELLIOTT: Native son and bluesman Vasti Jackson.

JACKSON: Mississippi is a state that has more Grammy winners than any other state in America. This is - this is the birthplace of America's music, the land where the blues began.


ELLIOTT: In a nod to its setting, the new, $20 million museum is a modern, corrugated metal building that evokes the silos, barns and cotton gins that dominate the Delta landscape. There's a wide, welcoming front porch to pull up a chair and listen to the live music on the front lawn.


EDEN BRENT: (Singing) It was early in the morning. I was almost out the door. Got a call from my boss man, said I cannot use you no more.

ELLIOTT: Inside, you can explore the history of the Grammys and its winning songs and artists. Many of the exhibits are interactive. You can play the drums, try to dance like Michael Jackson and James Brown and write and record a blues song. What sets the museum apart is the Mississippi Room, a tribute to the scores of Grammy honorees of all genres who have roots here. Bob Santelli is director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

BOB SANTELLI: You're able to see the different relationships that American music has with Mississippi. So you can go from opera to country music to blues to folk music to rock and roll.

ELLIOTT: The range is mind-boggling - Muddy Waters, Conway Twitty, Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Henson, The Staple Singers, Cassandra Wilson, Marty Stuart, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Buffett, Sam Cooke, Bobbie Gentry.


BOBBIE GENTRY: (Singing) It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day. I was out chopping cotton, and my brother was baling hay.

ELLIOTT: You can sit with a headset and listen to every single Mississippi Grammy song, like this one from Jimmie Rodgers.


JIMMIE RODGERS: (Singing) I told him once or twice to quit playing cards and shooting dice. He's in the jailhouse now. Ooh...

ELLIOTT: Santelli says Jimmie Rodgers was revolutionary.

SANTELLI: The father of country music - people don't realize that Jimmie Rodgers, 1927, he is part of a very important historical recording session called the Bristol sessions. And that basically begins country music.

ELLIOTT: At the center of the room is a wide, blue interactive table with images of musicians and records floating by on a wave. Michael Buday helped design the exhibit.

MICHAEL BUDAY: We wanted to play off the Mississippi River. So it's like you're coming up to a big pool where the currant is going down and bringing these artists and these Grammy Award-winning songs.

ELLIOTT: Touch one to see and hear a timeline of who influenced them and what Grammy artists they went on to inspire.


ELLIOTT: Select B.B. King, for example.


BB KING: (Singing) The thrill is gone. The thrill is gone away.

ELLIOTT: He was influenced by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. King in turn had an impact on the music of Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer. I picked Elvis, born in Tupelo, Miss.


ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) You ain't nothing but a hound dog crying all the time.

ELLIOTT: He was influenced by Big Mama Thornton.


BIG MAMA THORNTON: (Singing) You ain't nothing but a hound dog snooping around the door. You ain't nothing but a hound dog...

ELLIOTT: From Elvis, well, there's rock and roll. It's remarkable what came from here, says local state Senator Willie Simmons.

WILLIE SIMMONS: No other state can claim to have king of the country music, king of the blues and king of the rock. We have it - Elvis, Rodgers and B.B.

ELLIOTT: Simmons says the Mississippi Grammy Museum is a chance to tell an uplifting story from a region known mostly for its entrenched poverty. He's hoping it can be a game changer.


ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Cleveland, Miss.


SAM COOKE: (Singing) I was born by the river in a little tent. Oh, and just like the river, I've been running ever since...

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