Deep Into The Deep South: The Music That Shaped A Culture

By Sara Borzatta,

The southern charm of the Deep South region of the U.S. may be attributed to the home-style cooking or the twangy drawl of the southern accent or by the rich history of the Civil Rights Movement, but one of the most influential aspects is definitely the music.

The music of the Deep South is predominantly ruled by three musical genres: Jazz, Country, and Bluegrass (Rock n’ Roll also has roots in the Deep South). The music of the Deep South is complex due to the rich history of the region.  With slavery being a major influence on the region’s development, the Deep South has a mix of folk music brought to North America from Ireland and England and African beats brought by African slaves. These musical groups began forming in the pre-American Civil War era and managed to survive and evolve into modern forms of Jazz, Country, and Bluegrass. Here’s a little background three of the most prominent sounds of the Deep South:

Jazz

Jazz is and was largely influenced by the African culture; famous musicians like Louis Armstrong debuted in the southern state of Louisiana, which is often referred to as the birthplace of Jazz music.  In the early 1800s slaves of Louisiana would gather in Congo Square, New Orleans, LA. for jam sessions — their African beats began to mix with the European-style tuning of instruments, and choir music from African churchgoers — this formed a kind of rhythm and blues genre — which developed into Jazz and influenced both of Country (and eventually Rock n’ Roll).

New Orleans is definitely THE city for Jazz music, take a stroll through the French Quarter and you can hear live music billowing from bars, but even better is the Jazz musicians who gather in the streets, serenading the city.  Try the d.b.a. New Orleans for a great atmosphere and live brass and jazz-style music. Or head over to the iconic Preservation Hall, opened in 1961 for the sake of nurturing and preserving Jazz music in New Orleans, it’s still known today for incredible live Jazz performances (taking place nightly). Now is the perfect time to head to N’awlins for southern food and music because the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is on! It starts on April 25th and goes all weekend and picks up a again for a second weekend on May 1st. Need a place to stay in Nola? Get info here.

Jazz music in New Orleans

Preservation Hall in New Orleans, LA. Photo by Travel Muse. CC BY

Country

Country isn’t just about cowboys and line dancing in Texas — Country music covers a wide range of musical styles; bluegrass is a sub-culture of Country music. Country music tried out a few different names before settling on country — it’s been called old time, folk, and hillbilly — I guess Country ended up being less offensive than hillbilly. Country music has been around in some form since the 1800s — but a boom in Country singers from the Deep South came after the Great Depression of the 1930s, with Country legends like Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash, both born to southern rural families during the Depression. Today, Nashville, TN. is definitely the place to be for Country music enthusiasts. The live music scene is booming and cowboy boots run wild. Try the four-star Driskill Hotel in Austin, TX. for a great stay in a historical building and live music performances.  See more here.

Deep South Country Music

Texas Country Singers. Photo by Timothy J. Carroll. CC BY

Bluegrass

Folk music was brought across the Atlantic Ocean by the Irish and English settlers, flourishing in the Appalachia region and the southern U.S. states. Bluegrass is characterized by string instruments like banjos, fiddles, guitar, bass and mandolins — sometimes mixed with washboards from the Cajun Zydeco-style music of Louisiana. Bluegrass is best when it’s played from a wooden porch overlooking the swamps or meadows — but if you can’t quite reach those porches — try the Station Inn bar in Nashville, TN. for authentic Bluegrass, Country and Folk performances. Or check out Alabama’s numerous Bluegrass festivals.

Bluegrass-Deep-South

Banjo Man of Bluegrass. Photo by Derrick Coetzee. CC BY

These three music genres have shaped culture in the Deep South region of the U.S. — their tunes continue to draw millions of tourists from across the world — just ask the Swedes down in N’awlins and they’ll tell you they came for the live music!

Tips for Visiting the Deep South Music Spots

  • Start out with New Orleans, LA. if you’re interested in Jazz, Blues, or Gospel music. Click here for places to stay in the city.
  • Kentucky and Alabama are good spots for Bluegrass (Virginia is not technically part of the deep south — but Bluegrass is pretty good in this area too).
  • Texas and Tennessee are the best states for Country music and bars that offer country-style dancing.
  • Nashville, TN. is where you need to go for live music in general — for those who are unsure what they want to hear. Look here for some great places to crash for the night in Nashville.
  • Stay in the Driskill Hotel in Austin if you end up in Texas for Country music shows. Get more info.