America By Art and By Heart

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The Natchez Trace Parkway strikes a chord with vibrant attractions that go deep into the heart of American arts and culture.

The Natchez Trace Parkway strikes a chord with vibrant attractions that go deep into the heart of American arts and culture.

A child born in a tiny shotgun house in Tupelo, Mississippi rocks the world. A blind girl born in Alabama teaches the whole world to see.  An African American boy is born not just to sing the blues, but to invent them, while an African American girl is born to lead others to live their “best life.” It’s no exaggeration to say that much of the heart and soul of American arts and culture can be discovered and enjoyed along the 444 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Great developments can be traced to the Natchez Trace, because American greats were born here—and they’re still coming, to perform at the nation’s top musical venues and to show their works in premier arts settings, which is why a great American experience awaits in a host of exciting museums, stages and historic sites.

See where greatness began:

 The Parkway’s historic homes, neighborhoods and birthplaces include:

  •  The Elvis Birthplace— The tiny shotgun house where Elvis was born is only one part of the 15-acre Elvis Presley Park and Birthplace Center, an official Mississippi landmark featuring a recently remodeled memorial museum, tribute statuary, gift shop and a chapel. The Elvis driving tour takes visitors to the very same Tupelo hardware store where Elvis chose his first guitar as his birthday gift when he turned twelve.  The tour also takes visitors to Shakerag, where Elvis first heard the blues, and to the Assembly of God Church where he took gospel into his soul. 50,000 fans come here every year; the experience is just that good.
  • W.C. Handy Birthplace—The Florence, Alabama birthplace of the “Father of the Blues” is open to the public, displaying such personal belongings as his piano and trumpet. The home is also the site of the annual W.C. Handy Blues Festival honoring the composer of such classics as “St. Louis Blues” and “Beale Street Blues.”
  • Helen Keller Home—At Ivy Green, Helen’s Tuscumbia birthplace home, visitors can see not only the main house but also the cottage where Helen and Anne Sullivan retreated for their important work; visitors may even touch the famous well pump where Helen first learned to “see” water, as well as hope.  Every year more than 100,000 people converge on Tuscumbia for the Helen Keller Festival.
  • Eudora Welty Home and Gardens—The Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist and author of classic short stories and novels such as A Ponder Heart and A Worn Path, moved into her Jackson home when she was still in high school and lived there until her death some seventy years later. Located in Jackson’s Belhaven historic district, the house and gardens are open to the public.
  • Oprah’s Childhood Church— The church where Oprah attended is just one of the popular Oprah-related sites featured on driving tours of Kosciusko.

 Hear the greats of American music:

The stage is set for the experience of a lifetime. Come listen to the best of:

  • Nashville—Music City USA makes good its title in show-stopping venues ranging from the famed Blue Bird Café to the Ryman Auditorium, regarded as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” to that Nashville institution, the Grand Ole Opry continuing its more than 80-year tradition. The County Music Hall of Fame and Museum is only one of the many unbeatable attractions on Music Row.
  • Jackson-Clinton—The clubs are hopping at Jackson’s Farish Street Historic District, where blues greats once got their starts, or in Clinton, enjoy a folksier welcome at the monthly Olde Time Music Society jam sessions at the Clinton Welcome Center.
  • Tuscumbia-Florence-Sheffield-Muscle Shoals—Musical icons like the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, and Bob Segar recorded here to get the famed Muscle Shoals sound, and today at several attractions visitors can take walk through that exciting music history. At the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and Museum they can even take a turn at the mike at the Museum’s recording facilities equipped to give each and every visitor a shot at making a top 10 hit!

Enjoy great experiences in vibrant museums:

The Parkway’s star-powered attractions redefine the museum experience as an interactive adventure in learning and appreciation:

  • Jackson—More than a half dozen museums satisfy a range of ages and tastes, with venues such as a hands-on Children’s Museum; the sleek “museum without walls” that is the Mississippi Museum of Art; the Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences; a sports museum and hall of fame; an agricultural museum; a religious museum and several historical museums including the Old Capitol and the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion.
  • Nashville—At Vanderbilt’s Centennial Park, you can’t miss the replica of the Greek Parthenon where inside the Athena Parthenos, at nearly 42 feet tall, stands as the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western world. You won’t want to miss must-sees such as the world-class fine art at the Frist Center for Visual Arts, a converted Art Deco former post office. Visitors also flock to the sculpture trail and museum of art at the 55-acre Cheekwood Botanical Gardens.
  • Tupelo—At the Parkway Welcome Center, interactive exhibits take visitors deep into the panorama of the Trace’s colorful history, while the Oren Dunn Museum offers artifacts like a former Memphis street car turned diner, and at the Tupelo Automobile Museum, classics like the Tucker and the Duesenberg rev up auto enthusiasts as well as casual visitors.

Discover great African American history:

In Natchez, the annual Spring Pilgrimage of antebellum homes offers the Cotton Kingdom’s architectural and decorative masterpieces within a deep, rich context that includes the “Southern Road to Freedom,” an inspiring musical tribute to the African-American experience.  And open all year-round are museums such as:

  • The Natchez Museum of Afro-American Culture documenting the community’s African American citizens from the Civil War through World War II.
  • “No Easy Journey” Civil Rights exhibit (Port Gibson).
  • Medgar Evers Home—Home of the martyred Civil Rights leader (Jackson)
  • Medgar Evers Library (Jackson)
  • Margaret Walker Alexander National African American Research Center (Jackson)
  • Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center (Jackson)

Although he’s worked at other parkways, Natchez Trace Supervisory Interpretive Park Ranger David Carney says, “The Trace is unique in that I don’t believe that any place else can really take you the way the Trace does, into what it really means to be American.”