Mississippi was birthplace of many creative legends

Mississippi is a state that's hard to spell. It's a place that divides East and West and a state steeped in Southern culture. More than that, the Magnolia State is the birthplace of some of our nation's most prominent people, from music scene heavy-hitters to literary prodigies.

We surfed the Web to find the top five highlights of any Mississippi itinerary.

Birthplace of rock

His gyrating hips, curved lips and reinvention of rock 'n' roll marked Elvis Presley as one of the most prominent music makers of the century. Before he hit the stage with his provocative dance moves, Elvis was just a boy from Tupelo, Miss.

The city draws fans worldwide to see the spot where the King of Rock 'N' Roll grew up. To celebrate his 67th birthday in August 2002, the statue "Elvis at Age 13" was erected and has become a favorite among fans. Standing 5 feet, 5 inches tall, the sculpture is to scale and represents Presley's height when he was 13 years old and moved from Tupelo to Memphis.

Fans gather every August in the city to celebrate the annual Fan Appreciation Day, and throughout the year, an Early Years Driving Tour is a staple on admirers' to-do lists.

The tour starts at Presley's birthplace and leads followers through key spots visited in his formative years, including schools Presley attended and Tupelo Hardware, where Presley and his mother purchased his first guitar. Key spots are marked with bronze plaques to provide information about each site, thanks to funds provided by the Tupelo City Visitors Bureau in an effort to make the Elvis experience more complete.

Call 662-841-1245 or visit www.elvis.com.


of the blues

Elvis wasn't the only one to cause a ruckus on the Mississippi music scene. Born in the Mississippi Delta, blues legend B.B. King has has an equally strong influence on the tunes we hear today.

Riley B. King started life in one of the country's most impoverished regions, but raised himself up with a big dream and even bigger talent. Today, Riley King is known as B.B. King, The King of Blues, and is adored by music aficionados worldwide.

In his hometown of Indianola, Miss., the B.B. King Museum, a showcase of artifacts from the musician's illustrious 60-plus year career, is under construction. Ground broke on the museum in 2006 and it is slated to open in May 2008. The museum will also serve as home base for the Delta Interpretive Center, a foundation started by King to help underprivileged youth from his hometown better their lives.

Until the museum is completed, fans can satisfy their blues cravings at The 308 Blues Club and Cafe. Located adjacent to the future museum and in the heart of King's hometown, the club features the sounds of regional and national blues players as well as drinks from the Well of Perfection, a fully stocked bar acclaimed for its varied selections.

Visit www.308bluesclubandcafe.com or www.bbkingmuseum.org.

Birthplace of

childhood pals

If Elvis and B.B. get you blue, head to Leland, Miss., for a little green. The Delta town is the boyhood home Jim Henson, the creator of Kermit the Frog and his Muppet buddies.

Housed in the Washington County Tourist Center, the Jim Henson Exhibit was a gift to the people of Leland from the Jim Henson Company. On display in the exhibit is a tableau paying homage to Kermit's birth in the fictional Deer Creek, photos from the Henson family album and a viewing center of Henson's early works.

A separate room is filled with Muppet mementos, and a park surrounding the home is perfect for a picnic lunch.

The exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There is no admission fee to the exhibit, but donations are accepted and used for upkeep and maintenance. Visit www.lelandms.org.

Birthplace of Southern drama

Don't let his name fool you: Tennessee Williams was indeed born in Mississippi. Cited as one of America's most important playwrights, Williams was born as Thomas Lanier Williams in 1911 in Columbus, Miss.

A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Williams is best known for his plays "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "The Glass Menagerie," and he also penned an array of other works, including poetry, novels and short stories.

Literary-minded tourists can visit Columbus to view Williams' first home, an old Victorian house that was the rectory for St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where his grandfather, the Rev. Walker Dakin, served.

In 1993, the home was in danger of being torn down to make room for a church expansion, but an effort to preserve this historic landmark proved successful. The yellow-and-blue gingerbread home was loaded onto flatbed trailers and taken to Main Street, where it was restored and now serves as the official Welcome Center for Columbus.

The center is open to the public year-round, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Call 662-328-0222 or visit www.columbus-ms.org.

Birthplace of American fiction

Ol' Tennessee isn't the only wordsmith to hail from Mississippi. William Faulkner, one of the most renowned literary giants of the 20th century, was born in New Albany, Miss. Acclaimed for works such as "The Reivers," "The Sound and the Fury," "Light in August" and "Absalom, Absalom," Faulkner won a Nobel Prize for literature, two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, leading him to be considered to be the greatest fiction writers of the 20th century.

Faulkner's former home, Rowan Oak in Oxford, Miss., is open for viewing year-round. Within the walls of the primitive Greek Revival-style home, visitors can see the spots where the writer brainstormed and concocted his tales, including a room where an outline for "A Fable" has been scribbled on the wall by the author.

Sitting on a sprawling 30 acres of land, the house was built in 1840. Faulkner purchased it in the 1930s and did renovations to bring the home out of disrepair. In 1972, daughter Jill Faulkner Summers sold the home to the University of Mississippi, and it is now listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Rowan Oak is open for public tours and has been visited by writers such as John Updike, Charles Frazier, Alice Walker, the Coen brothers and Bobbie Ann Mason. Visit www.olemiss.edu.