The Most Important Cities in US Music History

Music is the soundtrack for our lives and it can play a key role in any travel experience. If you’re passionate about music and want to explore some of America’s richest music history, these are the destinations you should consider. 

Memphis, Tennessee

Anyone who loves music or studies/wants to study U.S. music history, should visit Memphis. Beale Street has been attracting blues performers since the early 1900s and while the voodoo queens, bootleggers, and gamblers are gone, the blues lives on. The pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare is lined with one music venue after another, from Blues City Cafe and Blues Hall Juke Joint to B.B. King’s Blue’s Club.

Some offer dining as well, but in between you’ll have plenty of options for delicious eats, particular soul food and BBQ. Some of the historic musical treasures to explore include Sun Studio where Elvis Presley first recorded and the Blues Hall of Fame Museum, while the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum will bring you through the city’s music history. Of course, this is the home of Elvis’ Graceland too.

With so much music to explore from the past through today, you might even find yourself touring some of the Memphis houses for sale.

Nashville, Tennessee

A mecca for bluegrass and country for more than a century, Nashville has an incredible music history, a place where Marion James became the “Queen of the Blues, Jimi Hendrix said he “really” learned to play the guitar, and countless legends got their start.

In fact, its nickname is “Music City,” with iconic venues like the Grand Ole Opry and the Bluebird Cafe. You can even attend a live recording at one of Nashville’s most historic venues, Ryman Auditorium. There’s a thriving rock scene too, with places like The Basement, an intimate spot that hosts everything from acoustic to metal.

New Orleans

The birthplace of jazz, it all began in 1819 when slaves gathered every Sunday to sing, play drums, and dance in Congo Square. The vibrant African rhythms were combined with European sounds to create this American art form that’s inspired countless generations. Louis Armstrong, one of the greats, grew up here, noting that “What we play is life,” it’s so much more than the songs with each note infused with history, soul, and heart.

Detroit, Michigan

The birthplace of Motown, in the Motor City one can check out the Motown Museum and even listen to the sounds of the Supremes, Temptations, and Marvin Gaye among others. Detroit is known for its rock ‘n’ roll too, with Kiss dubbing it “Detroit Rock City.”

Eminem and Alice Cooper both have roots here, while souls, the blues, and hip hop can be heard here too. This was also where the Belleville Three began experimenting with music and technology in a way that had never been done before and techno is still going strong here today. 

Seattle, Washington

You might think that Seattle has a more recent music history than the others, after all it’s well-known as the place where grunge music was born, spawned in the early 1990s. But the reality is, music history began in the Emerald City when the first European settlers arrived in the mid-19th century.

By the time the 1900s rolled around, the upper crust Seattleites had established an urban culture that included music – it became an important stop for vaudeville tours and by the 1920s, folk music was becoming popular. Ivar Haglund of the famous seafood restaurant chain was one of the city’s folk performers. The jazz scene was thriving too and included Jelly Roll Morton followed by the nightclub owner and performer Vic Meyers who eventually became the state’s Lieutenant Governor. 

While you’re here, be sure to visit the Museum of Pop Culture where you’ll find a wide range of music-related exhibits, including Jimi Hendrix who was born at Harborview Hospital in Seattle back in 1942. There are many outstanding venues too, such as Cafe Racer, the Columbia City Theater, and The Showbox.

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