Another of the highlights of our recent trip through the Mississippi Delta was a visit to the B. B King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi. As we traveled from Greenwood to Indianola on Highway 82, we made a quick detour to drive through the small delta town of Itta Bena, the birthplace of the blues musician, singer and songwriter, Riley B. King, later known simply as "B.B."
The home of Mississippi Valley State University, Itta Bena sits in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, surrounded by flat, almost treeless land. Once inside the town itself, there are many beautiful old trees that line its streets. Besides farming, the major industry in this part of the world is farm-raised catfish. Heartland Catfish, Inc., one of several large catfish processing companies in the Delta, is located in Itta Bena. And the town has a number of small restaurants that specialize in serving up fried catfish, Southern style. Still too early for lunch, we drove on to Indianola, with Greenville, Mississippi, as our final destination for the night.
We arrived in Indianola around noon, so we stopped for lunch at the Gin Mill Restaurant, located at 109 Pershing Avenue, just around the corner from the B. B. King Museum. There we had a delicious pulled pork sandwich, with all the trimmings, washed down with a large glass of sweet iced tea.
The building itself, once the Fletcher-Barnett cotton gin, now houses the Gin Mill Mall, which includes the restaurant and a gallery of Mississippi art, known as Gin Mill Galleries. More about the history of the building can be read on the gallery's website.
Since we had been told that a tour of the B. B. King Museum could take as much as three hours, we had set aside the remainder of the afternoon for the museum visit. But before going into the building, we drove around the block and snapped this picture of Club Ebony, a well-known Mississippi Delta blues club that has hosted countless blues musicians over the years.
As you can see in the photograph here, a Mississippi Blues Trail marker has been erected in front of this well-known Mississippi Delta juke joint. According to the marker, performers at Club Ebony have included Count Basie, Ray Charles, Little Milton, James Brown, Ike Turner, Willie Clayton, Bobby Bland, Howlin' Wolf, and Itta Bena's own B. B. King. Following B. B. King's performance on the evening of the B. B. King Homecoming in June of each year, Club Ebony is the site of a limited seating "after party."
As we left, I couldn't miss an opportunity to snap this photo of a stretch limousine parked just across the street from Club Ebony.
This is a view of a portion of the B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, located at 400 Second Street, Indianola, Mississippi. Based on information I have read, the center just opened last year and was built at a cost of several million dollars. As we entered the museum, several staff members welcomed us with smiles and pleasant "hellos" and were ready to explain the tour process.
We were advised the museum is conducive to self-guided tours, so we chose that option. Although adult admission to the museum is only ten dollars, as senior citizens, our rate was reduced to only $5.00 each - very reasonable, we thought, for such a new and unique attraction. We were told that a guided tour by a docent is also available for an additional fee.
The exterior of the museum is contemporary in design, and that contemporary flair continues throughout the interior. Made up of separate, well-lit viewing areas that are centered around specific subjects and events, the layout of the interior is tasteful and well-lighted. Memorabilia that tell a story are on display in large glass cases, and audio and video recordings are used in each area to relate the story behind a particular subject or event.
A replica of B. B. King's home recording studio can be viewed through a glass wall in one area, while other areas display clothing, records, musical instruments, and in one area, an almost life-size semi-replica of B. B. King's bus. No photographs were allowed inside the museum, since most of the displays contain all sorts of copyrighted materials.
Although we peeked inside the Delta Interpretive Center, which adjoins the museum, the center was not open for tour on the day of our visit. Based on information available on the museum's website, the center is used for both music education and dance instruction, and is a worthwhile addition to the town of Indianola.
A trip through the Mississippi Delta would not be complete without a visit to the B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. A museum store is available just inside the museum's entrance. In the store, visitors may purchase books, CDs, and other items to take home as reminders of this wonderful museum in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.
As we drove out of town on Highway 82, headed for Greenville, we made a decision to return to Indianola next June for the annual B. B. King Homecoming festival and concert. And maybe, just maybe, we will be able to get one of those limited seats for B. B.'s "after party" at Club Ebony.
Source: Digital Photograph Collection (2009), privately owned by Janice Tracy