Southern Agenda

Three Chords and the Blues

The rise of the guitar in popular music traces back directly to Mississippi Delta sharecroppers like Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt, who adopted the instrument in the early twentieth century. “Most music was based on horns or strings or keyboards, and the blues really gave the guitar its own identity,” says HP Newquist, a musician and author who founded the National Guitar Museum in 2008 (made up of touring exhibitions, it has no permanent location). This spring, through May 11, the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience in Meridian will host the museum’s America at the Crossroads: The Guitar and a Changing Nation. The exhibition features dozens of guitars that tell the story of how the instrument shaped American music—including ones owned and played by Mississippi’s own musical icons Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Jimmy Buffett, John Lee Hooker, and Charley Pride, plus oddities like a 1930s “frying pan” Rickenbacker, the first commercially successful electric guitar.