Turn your next trip into a full-on music festival. From coast to coast, America is filled with major music history. From jazzy jam sessions in New Orleans and catchy country music concerts in Nashville to momentous Motown in Detroit, these destinations changed the sounds, soul, and songs of modern music.
Bring soul on your next sojourn and follow the beat to a beautiful vacay that is music to your ears. Enjoy the sights and sounds of music history at museums like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, iconic spots in music history like Graceland, and live music venues like the Grand Ole Opry at these 15 cities brimming with music history. Relax, unwind, and rewind with these destinations that are music to our ears.
Locals have been making music here since the 19th century when enslaved people gathered in Congo Square on the weekends to play music and dance. Big band music traces its roots to New Orleans, where the sizable jazz ensemble and music genre were inspired by the city’s ragtime and blues. Zip up to an iconic New Orleans rooftop bar and listen to the sounds of the city, or visit the hometown of Louis Armstrong where they host the annual Jazz Fest, a 10-day cultural festival featuring traditional and contemporary jazz plus other music genres the Big Easy is known for, including Afro-Caribbean, blues, bluegrass, Cajun, country, folk, gospel, Latin, R&B, rap, rock, and zydeco.
The northernmost city in the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, Tennessee has a long music history. In 1909, W.C. Handy, considered the “Father of the Blues” brought his band to Beale Street. Memphis was also home to Sun Records, where the first rock ‘n’ roll song was recorded and where Elvis recorded his first song, and legendary Stax Records, which is now the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Elvis’ home, Graceland, is also here in Memphis as is The Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. Today, the tradition of rockin’ all night long continues at the live music venues along bustling Beale Street.
Known as the “City With Soul,” Jackson, Mississippi is famous for its blues and, more recently, its hip-hop. Nestled in West-Central Mississippi along the Pearl River, there’s music everywhere, from the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra to music halls like Duling Hall and the Mississippi Coliseum to the family-run Hal & Mal’s, which hosts jazz nights and big acts like rapper Snoop Dogg. The annual Jackson Indie Music Week, a week-long showcase of indie music talent, is continued proof that Mississippi’s music legacy endures.
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The city synonymous with SXSW, the annual festival that celebrates the convergence of tech, film, music, education, culture, and live music, is a hit with music lovers. The “Live Music Capital of the World” is packed with hundreds of live music venues—more than 250 to be exact. Whether you like country, rock, indie, or something else entirely, Austin has just what you’re looking for. Plus, the city hosts the annual music festival Austin City Limits Festival.
Nicknamed “Music City,” Nashville is the capital of country and western music in the U.S. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is here along with the Music City Walk of Fame on Nashville’s Music Mile. Plus, the Tennessean capital is home to dozens of live music venues, honkey-tonks, and historic recording studios like RCA Studio B. One of the most famous attractions is the Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running radio broadcast, which is recorded in front of a live audience at the undisputed “home of country music.”
The Motor City is famous for its cars, Motown, techno music, and rapper Eminem. Home to Motown Records from 1959 to 1972, the famous recording studio where Stevie Wonder and other music legends recorded their songs, Detroit became the birthplace of Motown, a distinct style of rhythm and blues music. Learn about the history of Motown at the Motown Museum and visit United Sound Systems Recording Studios, the first major, independent music studio in the U.S.
New York is the ultimate destination for music lovers. While Chicago, Kansas City, and New Orleans were pivotal in the early years of jazz, the Big Apple’s jazz scene is as hot as ever with iconic venues like Birdland Jazz Club, The Iridium, and Village Vanguard. It’s also where hip-hop was born and home to neon-lit Broadway theaters where ballads are belted at matinees and evening shows. From dive bars and open mic nights to jam-packed jazz clubs to the operatic overtures at The Metropolitan Opera, New York City is a musical feast unlike any other.
Minneapolis was the birthplace of singer-songwriter Prince who pioneered a unique style of music, Minneapolis Sound, a subgenre of funk rock, in the 1970s. Prince fans can follow in his footsteps by shopping at The Electric Fetus, one of Prince’s favorite record shops, dancing at First Avenue, a downtown danceteria where Prince filmed Purple Rain, and visiting Paisley Park, Prince’s home and recording studio. Stay a stone’s throw away in nearby Bloomington, Minnesota, home to Mall of America, the largest shopping center in the U.S. Bloomington, the 5th largest city in Minnesota, boasts 40 plus hotels, offering something for every type of traveler.
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Jimi Hendrix’s hometown was thrust further into the music spotlight in the 1990s thanks to its iconic “Seattle Sound” and grunge groups like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. The underground music scene continues to thrive as do other music genres. Take a stroll through the Museum of Pop Culture and the Jimi Hendrix Park and attend a concert by the Luck Ngi Musical Society, the oldest Cantonese opera club in the U.S.
The 305 has long been a hot destination for Latin and Caribbean beats and dance-all-night music. Rapper Pitbull and Latin pop singer Gloria Estefan are two of the countless musicians to come from Miami, which is abundantly populated with music venues and nightclubs from Downtown Miami to South Beach. Miami also hosts the annual DJ-filled Ultra Music Festival, which celebrates all things electronic music.
The Central Florida city famed for its theme parks is also where the most successful boy bands of all time were created in abundance in the 1990s. The Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and O-Town all came from Orlando, the home of the late music producer Lou Pearlman, and the pop world has never been the same since.
You can (literally) sing the blues in Chicago, which is the epicenter of blues music in America. During The Great Migration from 1910 to 1970, six million African Americans left the South and settled in the urban Northeast, West, and Midwest, including Chicago. They brought with them the sounds of the Mississippi Delta, transforming the blues sound and bringing it to prominence worldwide. The annual Chicago Blues Fest carries on this musical tradition each summer with three days of blues performances.
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Blues and ragtime influenced musicians in Kansas City, Missouri, which emerged as an early jazz capital in America. The hometown of saxophonist Charlie Parker and Kansas City is where Count Basie based his orchestra. Just as in its heyday, late-night jam sessions are still performed beginning after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights at Mutual Musicians Foundation, which is a National Historic Landmark.
Beantown has been a breeding ground for beats beginning in the 1970s with bands like Aerosmith, Boston, and the Pixies. Boston‘s basement clubs and bars boosted the burgeoning punk, new wave, and rock ‘n’ roll scenes in the later part of the 20th century. The boy band, New Kids on the Block, was formed here. From the Boston Pops to live music joints, Boston has dozens of places to hear some of the best music in the country.
Located at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains is Dollywood, a theme park owned by country superstar Dolly Parton. Opened in Parton’s hometown of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee in 1986, the 160-acre theme park features rides and country music entertainment. Dollywood is the most popular attraction in Tennessee. Cue the applause.