The Arkansas territory immediately west of the Mississippi River is a rich tapestry of history and cultures, woven together to create the phenomenon we call The Arkansas Delta. You’re invited to explore at close range the region we call home, and gain a deeper understanding of why we love it so much.
For your convenience and enrichment, we’ve established special “trails” devoted to a few aspects of our heritage. Choose one, learn and enjoy.
African-American Heritage Trail
The history of the Arkansas Delta is rich with the heritage of the African-American
families and communities that have populated the land for the past two centuries.
The music,agricultural, Civil War, Civil Rights, and culinary heritage of the region
carry the bold stamp of African Americans.
Many of the traditions of African Americans in the Arkansas Delta are not
cataloged in museums. These traditions are carried through the music heard
in churches and jukejoints; the stories told on front porches and at family
reunions; and the sense of interconnectedness and shared experiences
of black families and communities in the Delta.
population in the Delta, and it is tied forever to the alluvial soil
that is the lifeblood of this rich region.
Because so much of the African-American history and heritage
in theArkansas Delta is not tied directly to the built
environment, get ready for a sensory experience:
hear the music – gospel, jazz, blues; see the land and fields
that brought slavery to the region and enabled the
suppression of African Americans into present times;
smell and taste the sweetbreads, greens, barbeque
and fried chicken – there is nothing better!
We invite you to join us on a journey into the African-American heritage flowing through the Arkansas Delta. Explore
the music, stories, cuisine and land
that define a people and their
cumulative experiences. In many
ways, it is this shared heritage
that forms the soul of the black
West Helena-born William Warfield made his mark as one of America’s greatest operatic baritones and became an international star during a time that offered few opportunities for African American singers. Warfield is best known for his moving and powerful rendition of “Ol’ Man River” from the Broadway musical Show Boat and his lead role in George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. (Interpretive marker only)
Music Heritage Trail
The Arkansas Delta is home to a wealth of sites that are significant in the development of American Music. Here are some recommended places to visit.
MISSISSIPPI COUNTY ROAD 924 WEST, DYESS
When Ray and Carrie Cash moved to Dyess seeking opportunity during the New Deal, this house where Johnny and his siblings grew up was the family’s first new home. Much of the famous singer and songwriter’s inspiration came directly from the fields and his upbringing here in Dyess Colony. Johnny Cash was one of America’s most influential musicians with a career that spread across gospel, country and western, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll genres and earned him induction into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, Songwriters, Rockabilly, and Arkansas Entertainers Halls of Fame. (Interpretive marker only)
SOUTHERN TENANT FARMERS MUSEUM – 117 MAIN STREET, TYRONZA – Phone 870.487.2909
The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum focuses on the farm labor movement in the South and the tenant farming system of agriculture. Born and raised in the Arkansas Delta, John Handcox served as the minstrel of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and the voice of southern sharecroppers as expressed through his songs and poems written for the union and the cause. Listen to Handcox’s songs and see the influence of music on the agricultural labor movement in the South.
BB KING’S “LUCILLE” AR HIGHWAY 42 – TWIST
Visit the site where BB King infamously named his guitar “Lucille” after a woman in a burning juke joint on a winter night in the rural Arkansas Delta. (Interpretive marker only)
KWEM RADIO – 231 EAST BROADWAY, WEST MEMPHIS
Here is where emerging and talented local musicians played live on the air from 1947-1955. Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner, Junior Parker and Albert King all graced the KWEM studio. KWEM Radio was an integral player in the development and dissemination of the Delta sound that morphed into American rock ‘n’ roll music. (Interpretive marker only)
PLANTATION INN – 3600 EAST BROADWAY STREET, WEST MEMPHIS
Opened in 1943 in downtown West Memphis as a restaurant and nightclub, this establishment quickly became one of the hottest after-hours clubs in the Mid-South. Known for its late night jam sessions featuring both Memphis and Delta musicians, the Plantation Inn was home to “Flying Calvin” Newborn and many other famous blues and soul artists like Willie Mitchell, Ike Turner and Isaac Hayes. (Interpretive marker only)
ALBERT KING’S GRAVE – PARADISE GARDENS CEMETERY, AR HIGHWAY 147, EDMONDSON
One of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” – along with B. B. King and Freddie King – Albert King was a master of the single-string solo and was inspired by blues performers whom he heard while growing up in the Arkansas Delta. King was laid to rest not far from where he spent his childhood and began his music career in Osceola and West Memphis. (Interpretive marker only)
PEETIE WHEATSTRAW – COTTON PLANT
Born William Bunch in Ripley, Tennessee on December 21, 1902, he is widely associated with Cotton Plant, Arkansas, the hometown which greatly influenced his songwriting and music. Self-titled, Peetie Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-in-Law, Bunch went on to a prolific and acclaimed career as a recording artist and performer in the pre- and post-Depression era St. Louis, Missouri. (Interpretive marker only)
CENTRAL DELTA DEPOT – 100 WEST CYPRESS STREET, BRINKLEY – Phone 870.589.2124
The Central Delta Depot Museum is housed in the Brinkley Union Train Station constructed in 1912 at the heart of the Lick Skillet Historic District. The museum displays a wide variety of exhibits interpreting the natural, social, agricultural, and cultural history of the Arkansas Delta. A permanent exhibit explores the life and career of noted jazz trumpeter and big band leader Louis Jordan, a Brinkley native.
JOHN WESTON – COURTHOUSE SQUARE, 15 EAST CHESTNUT STREET, MARIANNA
Marianna native John Weston is recognized as a talented blues musician whose gift for songwriting made him unique among Delta blues musicians. Self-taught on guitar and harmonica, or blues harp, Weston didn’t perform publicly until the 1970s when he frequented the Marianna Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and quickly built up a national following. Interpretive marker only.
LEVON HELM – AR HIGHWAY 243, TURKEY SCRATCH
Levon Helm was born in 1940 near Elaine, Arkansas and grew up in Turkey Scratch, west of Helena. Helm gained fame as a founding member of The Band, a group that fused blues, country, rockabilly and folk music to create a distinctly unique sound at a pivotal time in the development of American rock ‘n’ roll music. (Interpretive marker only)
DELTA CULTURAL CENTER – 141 CHERRY STREET, HELENA – Phone 870.338.4351
The Delta Cultural Center, located in historic downtown Helena, is dedicated to telling the story of the Arkansas Delta. Current exhibits include “Helena: Main Street of the Blues” which gives a unique perspective on the Delta’s rich blues music history and heritage. The Visitors Center at the Delta Cultural Center features the “Delta Sounds” music exhibit, the studios of KFFA radio station and its daily live broadcast of King Biscuit Time – the longest running daily radio show in history, rotating and visiting exhibits of regional interest, and the Museum Store.
WILLIAM WARFIELD – COURT SQUARE PARK, 600 BLOCK CHERRY STREET, HELENA
KVSA “THE VOICE OF SOUTHEAST ARKANSAS” – US HIGHWAY 65 SOUTH, MCGEHEE – Phone 870.222.4200
This radio station has been serving up tunes in the Arkansas Delta for more than 55 years. The Spanish-style architecture of the radio station building immediately made it an icon on the Delta landscape with red clay roof tiles and a stucco exterior. With a nationally significant collection of vinyl LPs and the original turntables, the broadcasting booth has changed little since the station went live in 1952. The Studio A Dance Party, held every Saturday morning in the front of the station, hosted artists and bands traveling the region including Elvis Presley and The Townsel Sisters.