The newest landmark paying homage to the "home of the blues" was erected downtown last week, honoring the historic southern leg of Highway 61 and the musicians who know that stretch of road best.
Highway 61 has been the subject of songs written by everyone from Blind Mississippi Morris to Bob Dylan. According to legend, Robert Johnson even sold his soul to the devil on the famed stretch of asphalt. Now, almost a century after the genre that changed popular music forever was first played on old dusty guitars, Memphians and tourists from around the world can learn more about the musicians and places that helped mold the modern-day blues.
Andy Kitsinger, senior vice president of the Downtown Memphis Commission and head of the Memphis Blues Trail Project, said that he felt such a trail was missing from downtown music attractions. After enlisting the help of the Rock 'N' Soul Museum and the Center for Southern Folklore, Kitsinger's idea was put into action.
"I identified a need to the challenge that visitors and locals face [by developing] a user-friendly way of exploring Memphis' blues culture and heritage," Kitsinger said.
The Memphis Blues Trail will complement the State of Mississippi Blues Trail, running about 13 miles along Highway 61, from the Tennessee state line through downtown Memphis.
Because Highway 61 doesn't actually run through downtown, the Downtown Memphis Commission asked the Memphis City Council to designate Third Street as an honorary part of Highway 61. But while the Mississippi Blues Trail has over 100 stops, honoring everyone from Elvis Presley to Papa Light Foot, the Memphis Blues Trail will tentatively only have 12 stops, with several types of markers along the trail.
The marker unveiled last week will serve as the starting point, while other markers will feature information on prominent blues artists and significant sites. Other components of the blues trail include public art, murals, and enhanced crosswalks and gateways. Kitsinger said that while the Blues Trail is still in its infancy, he hopes it will become one of the city's main musical attractions.
"Hopefully, the initiative can grow into an international attraction that can be connected with activities and destinations along the full length of Highway 61, from the Mississippi Gulf Coast through Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago," Kitsinger said.
Kitsinger hopes the trail will remind blues fans about Memphis' role in the birth of the genre.
"Besides a strong economic impact to our region, [the Blues Trail] makes our blues heritage and culture more accessible to the public, to both locals as well as visitors from all over the world," Kitsinger said. "With access to more information on our blues heritage, we can all better understand and appreciate the organic growth of the many other genres of modern music."