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Tourism Grows from Natchez’ Deep Music Roots

Natchez celebrates deep roots in American music

By Teree Caruthers on June 16, 2016

Smoots Grocery in Natchez, MS with Bill Abel and his Band
Allen Laird

If Mississippi is the birthplace of Americana music, then Natchez, or “Little Easy” as it’s known in music circles, is the cradle. From blues and bluegrass to country and rock ‘n’ roll – all these musical genres and more are preserved and celebrated in Natchez. 

Sounds of the South

As the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River, Natchez trumpets 300 years of musical history that blends Natchez Indian, French, Spanish and African cultures. Settlers and slaves brought with them the sounds of their homeland – zydeco, Native American tribal music and African rhythmic dance tunes – and those sounds continue to reverberate in the country and western saloons, rock ‘n’ roll halls, and jazz and blues joints across this Delta city. 

“In Natchez you can hear live music just about seven days a week,” says Jennifer Ogden Combs, tourism director for Visit Natchez. “A lot of our restaurants host live music, usually Thursday through the weekend. On Sundays, we have Sunday gospel music and Sunday brunch music.” 

Hitting the High Notes

The city’s musical legacy has become a major driving force behind tourism, the city’s No. 1 industry and No. 1 employer – 20 percent of the jobs in Adams County are tourism-related. With the city’s Tricentennial Celebration in 2016 and the launch of the Americana Music Triangle (a series of driving trails that allow visitors to explore the roots of American music from Nashville to Memphis to New Orleans), the Natchez tourism industry has grown even stronger. 

“The Americana Music Triangle is a perfect way for Natchez to capitalize on our music heritage, because we have so many travelers that do travel the route from Memphis to Natchez to New Orleans and back,” Combs says. “The whole city is really into it. All of our businesses — they have the Americana posters; they support the movement; and they have really made a point to try to have more live music than they ever have before.”

Combs says a local favorite and must-stop for tourists is the Rolling River Bistro, which hosts live jazz and big band musicians Wednesday through Saturday. Another is Bowie’s Tavern, a New Orleans-inspired restaurant overlooking the river. Bowie’s boasts a bar that dates back to the 1800s and hosts local bands, such as Speak Easy and Scratch, on weekends. 

Biscuits & Blues occasionally serves live music along with its fine-dining experience, and the Under the Hill Saloon features music and dancing in one of the city’s oldest establishments. Music flows out onto the streets in March and April during the annual Spring Pilgrimage and in May for the month-long Natchez Festival of Music. The city’s musical heritage is even celebrated in the wake of tragedy. 

Remembering the Rhythm

On April 23, 1940, a fire broke out inside the Rhythm Night Club, killing more than 200 patrons and injuring several others. The property remained vacant until the early ’80s when Monroe Sago opened an auto detail business. Many community elders and survivors of the nightclub fire started bringing him memorabilia and telling him about the history of the property.

After collecting artifacts for some 20 years, Sago and his wife, Betty, built the Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum, which features old newspapers, photos, albums, sheet music and recordings. The museum, open for guided tours Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., is a way of honoring the memory of the fire’s victims and survivors but also celebrating the music of that era.

“After meeting so many survivors and families of victims, we felt the museum would be a good opportunity for them to tell their story to the world,” Betty Sago says. “Our motto was if we didn’t do anything about it, nobody else would. People ask us where we found all these items, but I tell them, they found us. Nowhere else in Natchez will you find so much history.” 

In Natchez you can hear live music just about seven days a week. A lot of our restaurants host live music, usually Thursday through the weekend, and on Sundays, we have Sunday gospel music and Sunday brunch music.

Jessica Cauthen
Public Relations Director, Visit Natchez
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