Music cities have shaped our listening pleasure for decades and nowhere more so than those American cities that helped spawn the birth of the blues, jazz, country music and rock ‘n’ roll.
Many music cities have geographical and historical roots that led to our burgeoning music scenes. Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, but he will always be synonymous with Memphis, Tennessee. Nashville will always be the home of country music. New York can boast hip hop, punk and disco.
These places and many more have become ideal vacation destinations for music lovers whether for a party weekend or longer.
Here, we take a look at the cities shaped by the music of our forebears as well as those still contributing cutting edge sounds that are occupying today’s charts and nightclub scenes – and why you should head there soon.
It’s synonymous with country music and country and western and for good reason. It’s here that you can visit the wonderful Nashville Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. If you do so, be sure to take up the add on offer of a tour to RCA Studio B, which is a spine-tingling guided tour of the studio where luminaries such as Dolly Parton, Jim Reeves and Elvis Presley recorded. The museum itself hosts 2.5 million artifacts including Elvis’s solid solid gold Cadillac limo. Pop into the Ernest Tubb Record Store at 417 Broadway, visit any one of the many honky tonks and dive bars. Or institutions such as the Grand Ole Opry. These days national and international acts play the Ryman Auditorium and the city boasts a new generation of great music from the likes of Paramore, Kings of Leon and The Black Keys as well as Jack White who has his very own Third Man Records store. No wonder Nashville is known as Music City USA.
New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s regarded to be the birthplace of Jazz cultivated in the early 20th century and was the home of Louis Armstrong. Historically, New Orleans even gave birth to the “jazz funeral” complete with a brass band procession of the type immortalised in the opening scenes of the 1973 James Bond film Live & Let Die.
The streets are alive with authentic music to this day and that makes it a great destination for those seeking the jazz scene. Check out Bourbon Street as well as locales such as Tremé, Crescent City and Frenchman Street and establishments such as the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, Blue Nile, and Palm Court Jazz Cafe.
Established local and touring musicians keep the scene alive at the Preservation Hall. There’s also the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the spring should you look to book ahead.
It’s my kind of town and it could be yours too. When large numbers of African Americans headed north during the Great Migration (1916 - 1970), looking for better-paying jobs, Chicago was a major port of call. People brought with them the sounds of the Mississippi Delta – in other words, the blues that grew out of the hardships of life working the cotton fields. It led to a raft of notable and successful Chicago Blues musicians including Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters.
Since then the Windy City’s music scene has inspired new generations of rock, pop and hip hop performers, including the Smashing Pumpkins, Wilco and Kanye West.
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Music festivals play a large part in keeping the city relevant with Lollapalooza and the Pitchfork music festivals attracting people in their thousands.
The birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll without a shadow of a doubt. It’s here you can visit Sun Studios. This is the studio where, as far back as 1951, Ike Turner and the Delta Cats recorded Rocket 88, which many consider to be the first rock ‘n’ roll song. Sun Studios also helped the nation discover Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis to name just a few. It’s at Sun Studios that you can take a 45-minute guided tour and stand in the very same spot where Elvis recorded and see priceless memorabilia. It's open 10am to 6.15pm. Artists can still record overnight.
Another unmissable tour is Elvis’s Graceland home including his gravesite, or visit the Stax Museum, the Gibson Guitar factory or B.B. Kings Restaurant & Blues Club.
Also the birthplace of Aretha Franklin, the city also produced musicians like blues legend John Lee Hooker and, more recently, Justin Timberlake. Stroll down Beale Street and pop into a bar where you will undoubtedly find a band or an artist rocking out most days of the week.
Austin is the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World and you only have to take a short stroll along Sixth Street to find out why. There are over 250 live music venues in Austin. That’s more per capita than anywhere else in the country. In March, thousands of bands from all over the world compete for attention at the South by Southwest music festival.
Having been home to a wide array of acts over the decades including Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughn, the city’s Austin City Limits festival takes place each October in Zilker Park over two weekends, on 8 stages and featuring music from 130 bands. This year’s eclectic line-up includes headliners such as Guns N’ Roses, Childish Gambino and The Cure.
Great venues include Antone’s, the Continental Club, Stubbs and the Broken Spoke.
Known as Motor City thanks to the burgeoning of the automotive industry at the beginning of the 20th century, Detroit was also home to Berry Gordy Jr’s Motown label, started as Tamla in Detroit in 1959.
The label gave a start to The Jackson 5, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and many more artists. Nowadays, you can head to the New Center neighbourhood where The Motown Museum / Hitsville U.S.A. houses the studio where artists such as Gladys Knight & The Pips, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Aretha Franklin, Lionel Richie and Jackson 5 recorded, often with the help of the house band The Funk Brothers.
Detroit is also the birthplace of techno and holds the Movement Electronic Music Festival each May.
New York, New York
So good they named a song after it. Few music lovers can think of New York without thinking of the birth of punk music and those hot and steamy nights at the CBGBs club, Max’s Kansas City and The Bowery. It’s also in the Big Apple that we saw the birth of hip hop and disco. Studio 54 anyone? Talents out of New York have included everyone from Burt Bacharach to Jay-Z, from Sonic Youth to Wu Tang Clan. Sadly, CBGBs is no more despite having been host to groundbreaking concerts by the likes of the New York Dolls, The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and Blondie.
But you don’t have to go far to find a musical reference in the city. Central Park has the Strawberry Fields, a landscaped garden on the west side of Central Park that acts as a memorial to John Lennon. Recreate The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album cover on Jones St and West 4th St. Or visit venues like the stunning art deco Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall or Webster Hall.
Home to the 1990s grunge scene and bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Blind Melon and more, it’s here in Seattle that you can visit the unofficial Kurt Cobain memorial in Viretta Park, where lyrics and love letters are scrawled on the two park benches near where the Nirvana frontman used to live. Other spots include the London Bridge Studio, where Sound Garden and Alice in Chains have recorded. Seattle is also where Jimi Hendrix was born and raised. Jimi Hendrix Park is dedicated to the legendary guitarist, with memorials, sculptures and lyrics etched into the purple-edged walkways.
The city continues to produce great music by the likes of Macklemore, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Shins. Unsuprisingly, like any self-respecting music city, Seattle has its own music festival, called Bumbershoot, held over September’s Labor Day weekend.