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  • Lively Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee
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    Visiting Iconic Music History Sites in Memphis, Tennessee

  • Tribute to Johnny Cash in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where he spent his childhood
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    Paying Tribute to Johnny Cash in Jonesboro, Arkansas

  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Alice Walton in 2011, in Bentonville, Arkansas
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    Bentonville, Arkansas: Where Sam Walton Built Walmart

  • Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, the first Southern school to be integrated in 1957
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    Getting Presidential in Little Rock, Arkansas

  • In an intersection in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the spot where legend says Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play the blues guitar
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    Theater and the Blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi

  • Strolling the walkway leading to Rowan Oak, the Oxford, Mississippi, home of the late author William Faulkner
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    Parading the Streets of Oxford, Mississippi

Delta Blues Museum, a former train depot, in Clarksdale, Mississippi
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Following in the Footsteps of Southern Icons

  • Route distance:
    1300.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Exploring places where inspiration abounds

The heart and soul of the South can often be found in words written by its iconic authors and the lyrics of famous singers. Travel this route to explore the favorite sights, sounds and haunts of some of the South’s most famous natives. Whether politicians, retail and music legends or famed artists, you'll experience how the stars of the South left important marks in the towns that helped to build their legend.

01
Lively Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee
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Visiting Iconic Music History Sites in Memphis, Tennessee

Start tapping your toes the minute your plane lands at Memphis International Airport. You’re in a musical mecca, a place known as the “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock ’n’ Roll.” Start your trip with a visit to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to peruse 2,000 cultural artifacts, music exhibits and memorabilia dedicated to preserving the legacy of American soul music. Afterward, head to one of the most famous recording studios in the world, Sun Studio. Tour the spot where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash recorded iconic songs. Speaking of Elvis, you can’t visit Memphis without a stop at Graceland, home of “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Stroll by his former racquetball court, now home to his sequined outfits, and pay your respects at his gravesite in the outdoor Meditation Garden. Walk down Beale Street, where bands have been playing since the 1860s, to hear every genre of music from legendary blues to rock to soul. Stop by the Arcade Restaurant, which was a film location for the adaptations of John Grisham novels “The Client” and “The Firm” as well as the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.” To buy signed copies of Grisham’s books, visit Burke’s Bookstore. To get your Memphis cultural fill, schedule a walking tour with local expert Jimmy Ogle before heading northwest to your next destination.

1 hour by car
02
Tribute to Johnny Cash in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where he spent his childhood
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Paying Tribute to Johnny Cash in Jonesboro, Arkansas

About an hour from Memphis, visit the town where lawyer-turned-prolific-writer John Grisham spent the first four years of his life. Nearby Dyess Colony was home to iconic country music legend and the “Man in Black” Johnny Cash. Cash’s childhood home during the Great Depression was in this federal agricultural resettlement community. Originally created in 1934, the colony was resurrected through the restoration of several historic buildings, including the Cash home in 2012. In 2013, the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas awarded the 2013 Award for Excellence in Preservation through Restoration to the Arkansas Heritage Sites Program of Arkansas State University for the Cash house restoration. Back in Jonesboro, a highlight each August is the Johnny Cash Music Festival, which raises money for restoration work and draws big-name country stars like Reba McEntire, Rosanne Cash and Loretta Lynn. After paying homage to Cash, it’s time to move on to the next town.

5 hours by car
03
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Alice Walton in 2011, in Bentonville, Arkansas
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Bentonville, Arkansas: Where Sam Walton Built Walmart

Soak up the sights on your half-day drive through the Ozarks Mountains region to reach Bentonville in northeastern Arkansas. In 1950, Sam Walton opened his convenience shop on the still-bustling Bentonville town square. Since then, that little spot has grown into a global retail leader, and the original shop site is now The Walmart Museum. Visitors can tour the exhibit gallery, the original store and The Spark Café, an old-fashioned soda fountain. Just north of downtown Bentonville is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Alice Walton in 2011. Admission is free to the museum, which holds $500 million worth of masterpieces from all eras of American art, including works from Walton's private collection. Stop inside the museum’s Eleven Restaurant, which serves regional comfort food. The Museum of Native American History is also worth a visit before you head south to the state capital.

3 hours by car
04
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, the first Southern school to be integrated in 1957
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Getting Presidential in Little Rock, Arkansas

The biggest attraction in charming and historic Little Rock is named for the city’s most famous former resident. Visit the Clinton Presidential Center to walk through exhibits about Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and his years in the White House. While downtown, tour the Governor’s Mansion. During Clinton’s first presidential campaign, one restaurant receiving fanfare was Doe’s Eat Place, where Clinton gave his Rolling Stone cover story interview. Order the steaks or the tamales, which are served with chili or ketchup and saltine crackers. Trio’s Restaurant, famous for strawberry shortcake, was another Clinton family favorite. Clinton often did his holiday shopping on Christmas Eve, and much of it happened in the Heights neighborhood. Schedule a visit to Little Rock Central High School, the first Southern high school to be racially integrated in 1957 following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education. If your visit is in late April, take part in the Arkansas Literary Festival. That is perfect priming for the next stop a couple of hours away in Mississippi.

3 hours by car
05
In an intersection in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the spot where legend says Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play the blues guitar
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Theater and the Blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Cross the Mississippi River and enter the Mississippi Delta region, where Clarksdale birthed the blues and sparked the creative juices of the Deep South. Although playwright Tennessee Williams moved from Clarksdale by his early childhood, the town provided the setting for many of his famous works. Tennessee Williams Park is dedicated to him, and the Cutrer Cultural Arts Center celebrates his work. Take a walking tour of the historic district to experience landmarks significant to Williams’ life. If you visit in October, enjoy the annual Tennessee Williams Festival to hear historical presentations and live performances.

To immerse yourself in local blues history, head to the famous Ground Zero Blues Club, co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, then walk across the street to the Delta Blues Museum, a former train depot. You can see many blues exhibits, including the shack where Muddy Waters lived in his youth. Next, visit the Rock and Blues Museum to see 1920s to 1970s music memorabilia, including old acetates and 78 rpm recordings of blues legend and Mississippi native Robert Johnson. Before leaving town for Oxford, venture to the Crossroads, where State Street and Desoto Avenue intersect; legend, or myth, says this is where Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in order to master the guitar.

1 day by car
06
Strolling the walkway leading to Rowan Oak, the Oxford, Mississippi, home of the late author William Faulkner
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Parading the Streets of Oxford, Mississippi

After driving east on Highway 278, you’ll enter a picturesque Southern town built to resemble Oxford, England. You can envision a young William Faulkner, dressed in costume, parading the streets. For Faulkner, those strolls led to Rowan Oak, the home he bought in 1930. Take a tour of his family home, bought in 1972 by the University of Mississippi for preservation and educational purposes. Look closely at the walls of his study, where he penciled in the outline for his 1954 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “A Fable.” Inside and outside, on the home’s surrounding 11.7 hectares, Faulkner told ghost stories to his nieces, nephews and children, several of which were captured by his niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, in her book “The Ghosts of Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's Ghost Stories for Children.” After Faulkner died in July 1962, his funeral procession moved around the town square. He was buried in St. Peter's Cemetery; today, see the statue in his honor downtown in a square that also includes the beloved bookstore Square Books. Now that you’ve learned about some of the most lasting figures of the South, it’s time to drive the 110 kilometers back to Memphis, where your journey began, and catch a flight home.

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