Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in Southern Studies

First Advisor

Ted Ownby

Second Advisor

Adam Gussow

Third Advisor

David Wharton

Abstract

With a focus on the Mississippi Delta, Elvis Presley's Graceland, and Austin, Texas, this thesis is an exploration of the successes, failures, and necessary re-imaginings of sites of music lore, places in which the blues have played a role in music tourism, and how public history is used in different ways to accomplish a similar goal. For cities with ties to blues history, blues music tourism can become a source for financial stability as well as a teaching opportunity in the form of public history. Beyond a push to increase financial gain in places that are benefiting from blues tourism dollars, there lies an opportunity to sharpen the historic awareness of an American art form with distinctly Southern roots. However, there are few successful examples of blues music tourism that combine historic accuracy with financial progress. In most instances, the blues have been commodified to suit a specialized market, and the blues image is appropriated to create a tie to roots music without accurately representing its history. In what way has the re-imagining of blues music and blues culture shaped blues music tourism? The preservation of blues history is central to the promotion of the blues as a cultural accessory, and as a cultural tourism agenda. The Mississippi Delta is at the forefront of using blues music tourism to foster positive growth through historic revision. Can that revisionism bridge the divide created by centuries of racial oppression? Elvis Presley's Graceland is considered part of American identity. But in actuality, it is the plantation home of a man who appropriated his talent from watching black blues musicians in and around Memphis and Mississippi. What lessons can blues tourism take from the successes and failures of Graceland in order to become both financially successful and historically accurate? Austin, Texas, the "Live Music Capital of the World" uses the music industry as a means of self-identification. Can incorporating blues through public history exhibits help the city create a more historically inclusive music history narrative? In examining these three locations, it is easy to see the positive and negative aspects of cultural tourism. Historically responsible blues music tourism would be accessible to a broad audience without presenting an imagined version of history.

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