The city of Clarksdale is located at the intersection Highways 61 and 49, with the area commonly referred to as “The Crossroads” where blues music was born.
Like most legends, the story of Robert Johnson began with a real person. Johnson lived in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1900s and started playing music when he was young, but the only problem was he wasn’t very good.
Despite the negative reviews and berating from townspeople, Johnson kept practicing without any improvement. Then one day, he just disappeared. No one was sure where he went or what he was doing, but when he returned is when the lore began.
People in the Mississippi Delta and throughout the blues world swear that Johnson landed at that intersection of the two highways late one night. A large man dressed in black appeared. Those who believe the legend refer to the man in black as the Devil.
Legend has it Johnson begged the Devil to make him a talented musician, and the Devil agreed on one condition: Johnson would have to sell his soul.
“I went down to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, ‘Have mercy now, save poor Bob
If you please”
Johnson later returned to Clarksdale with all the talent in the world, and the people were shocked. Was this the same guy that was getting booed off stage just half a year before?
Suddenly, Johnson could sing, write music, and even play the guitar. Some people even swore that it sounded as if he were playing two guitars at once.
It’s been said that audiences would look around, searching for a second guitarist, leading many to believe the Devil himself was playing alongside Johnson. Others believed it was just a new style of play, where Johnson was doing it all himself on one guitar.
Today, almost 100 years after Johnson allegedly sold his soul to play the blues, people can go visit the crossroads where a sign accented by multiple guitars now stands.
Clarksdale, like many Mississippi towns, is a walking history book. The city even houses the state’s oldest museum, the Delta Blues Museum, where visitors can go to learn more about Johnson and other blues musicians who molded the state into “The Birthplace of America’s Music.”
“The Delta Blues Museum is dedicated to creating a welcoming place where visitors find meaning, value, and perspective by exploring the history and heritage of the unique American musical art form, the blues, as a Great River Interpretive Center,” a portion of the museum’s website reads.
The museum, which was established in 1979 and has won multiple awards for its role in preserving the blues, is open six days a week. For hours and more information, click here.