Musical America: From rock and soul to hip-hop and country

Whatever your style, somewhere in the US they’re singing your song. Our writers explore the country’s most tuneful towns and cities

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The Independent Travel

Soul

Detroit is the home of Motown, and the city still swings to the music's triumphant beat. Virgin Atlantic (0344 209 7777; virgin-atlantic.com) launched non-stop flights from Heathrow in June, making it easier to get to the heart of Motor City. Stroll through Downtown and you'll catch the strains of old Motown classics filtering out from the bars, or visit the bustling Eastern market (00 1 313 833 9300; easternmarket.com), where you'll hear singers croon and music waft along with the smoke from numerous huge barbecues.

The Motown Museum (001 313 875 2264; motownmuseum.org) is where it all began. This is where Berry Gordy set up the Motown label in his own home, converting the bottom floor into a recording studio and moving his family to an apartment on the top levels. The Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson all recorded their hits here and the jolly guides are keen to get unsuspecting tourists to re-enact those magic moments, with dance moves too, in the same studio space where stars were made.

But Detroit is not the only city with soul. In Memphis, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (001 901 946 2535; staxmuseum.com; $13/£9) has more than 3,000 items on display, including photos, videos and records – along with a dance floor, of course. Emily Jupp

Country

Nashville, or "Nash Vegas" to the locals, is the world's No 1 destination for fans of guitars and cowboy hats. The city's most famous live music venue, The Grand Ole Opry (001 615 871 6779; opry.com), where Dolly Parton performed on stage at the age of 13, marks its 90th anniversary this year. Head to one of the three weekly live radio show recordings, where some of the biggest names in country music perform to the audience. It's also possible to combine your ticket with a backstage tour after the show (tours from $22/£14).

The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville city centre rivals The Opry in prestige and certainly beats the venue when it comes to architectural beauty. The 19th-century building was home to Opry broadcasts between 1943 and 1974, but now hosts its own concerts (001 615 889 3060; ryman.com).

Around the corner, dozens of small honky-tonk bars line Broadway, hosting live country music every night. For an authentic experience try Tootsie's Orchid Lounge (001 615 726 0463; tootsies.net), whose first customers included Roger Miller and Willie Nelson. Head much further south to queue up for the Bluebird Café (001 615 383 1461; bluebirdcafe.com), as featured on the television programme, Nashville; you can beat the queues by booking in advance online.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (001 615 416 2001; countrymusichalloffame.org; $25/£17) tells the story of the genre, with plaques dedicated to musicians from Johnny Cash to Garth Brooks. It also offers a tour of RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and more recently The Strokes have recorded. Daisy Wyatt

Rock

While some say that American rock music is forever bound to the gates of Elvis's Graceland mansion (001 901 332 3322; graceland.com; $77/£49) in Memphis, many of the genre's key moments have occurred in New York.

The Big Apple rings with echoes from musical history, whether it's the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon (Central Park West at West 72nd Street) or the Riviera Café in Greenwich Village (001 212 929 3250), where Lou Reed began the break-up of the Velvet Underground by forcing out bandmate John Cale in September 1968.

The same street was the heart of the folk scene from which Bob Dylan emerged in 1961 – while if you flit to 315 Bowery in the East Village, you can glimpse the former CBGB, the club where punk and new wave came alive in the Seventies, with the Ramones and Blondie. It's now a clothes shop, but walk south to the Bowery Ballroom (001 212 260 4700; boweryballroom.com) where you can hear a new generation doing their thing.

Los Angeles is similarly significant. The Doors' office-studio was at 8512 Santa Monica Boulevard, while room 32 of the Alta Cienega Motel in West Hollywood (1005 North La Cienega Boulevard; 001 310 652 5797; from $91/£58) was Jim Morrison's favoured spot to crash. The motel is near Whisky A Go Go (001 310 652 4202; whiskyagogo.com), the iconic venue that has hosted everyone from The Doors to Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses, with most of those acts partying at the Rainbow Bar and Grill (001 310 278 4232; rainbowbarandgrill.com) at show's end.

Serious grunge fans make the pilgrimage to Seattle, which was the focal point of the scene in the Nineties. There you can visit Crocodile (001 206 441 4618; thecrocodile.com), the tiny venue where Nirvana played in 1992, and the EMP Museum (001 206 770 2700; empmuseum.org; $22/£14), which celebrates the city's musical titans. Chris Leadbeater

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Blues

Think of the blues and your mind will inevitably turn to the south, particularly the city of Memphis. The new Memphis Music Hall of Fame (001 901 205 2532; memphismusichalloffame.com; $8/£5) opened last month in tribute to legends of the genre such as BB King, with never-before-seen memorabilia, videos and more.

King, who died earlier this year, gives his name to BB King's Blues Club (001 901 524 5464; bbkings.com) on Beale Street, the city's blues boulevard. On a bar crawl, don't miss Mr Handy's Blues Hall (001 901 528 0150), another legendary venue on the same street.

The genre is so integral to the region that Route 61, which travels through the Mississippi Delta and on to New Orleans, has been nicknamed the "Blues Highway", an epithet that even appears on road signs. Take a road trip along it and stop at the tiny town of Clarksdale, Mississippi, where you'll find the Delta Blues Museum (001 662 627 6820; deltabluesmuseum.org; $7/£5) and Rock and Blues Museum (001 901 605 8662; blues2rock .com; $5/£3), as well as Ground Zero (001 662 621 9009; groundzerobluesclub.com), a blues club co-owned by Hollywood star Morgan Freeman.

Around Clarksdale, blue Mississippi Blues Trail markers (msbluestrail.org) identify local landmarks such as the site where Muddy Waters' home stood, and the historic Riverside Hotel, where visiting musicians used to stay. The town's most curious sight, however, is "The Crossroads". The junction of Routes 61 and 49 is where bluesman Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for mastering the guitar; it is now marked with a huge sculpture of three crossed guitars. Nicola Trup

Jazz

A city so full of brass that ordinary street corners can host impromptu trumpet and trombone performances of the most incredible quality, New Orleans is the ultimate destination for jazz lovers. And those new to the genre will find the city welcoming for novices, too.

Learn about the music through talks and performances at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park visitor centre (001 504 589 4841, nps.gov/jazz; free) inside the acres of green space at Louis Armstrong Park, named after the city's most famous son. And at the Old US Mint (001 504 568 6993; bit.ly/OldUSMint; free) you can see the instruments of jazz legends on display, from Armstrong's cornet to Fats Domino's piano. The space will soon become home to the new Louisiana Music Museum.

In the French Quarter you can find world-class artists, including Grammy Award winners, playing intimate gigs for just a few dollars on the door. As the name suggests, Preservation Hall (001 504 522 2841; preservationhall.com) serves to keep the spirit of the genre's earliest days alive. It hosts three traditional performances, with standing room only, almost every night of the year – just be prepared to queue.

Brilliant contemporary musicians also make a living playing regularly in venues along Frenchmen Street, such as DBA (dbaneworleans.com). For more formal concerts, the New Orleans Jazz Market (phnojm.org) opened earlier this year. A former department store was turned into a large, modern venue to host full gigs as well as music-accompanied pop-up events. Rob Hastings

Hip-hop

Hip-hop has become a global phenomenon in the past 30 years, but it is a New York art form by genesis, born in the Bronx in the mid-Seventies. Hush Tours (001 212 714 3544; hushtours.com) runs a hip-hop tour ($75/£48) that ticks off a number of relevant sites – such as the Bronx Walk of Fame (161st Street and Grand Concourse), where hip-hop alumni of the neighbourhood (KRS-One, Afrika Bambaata) are saluted via street plaques.

In SoHo, visit SOB's (001 212 243 4940; sobs.com), where many great rappers – Drake, Kanye West, Rick Ross, Mos Def – have made formative appearances. And Chung King Studios in Midtown (001 212 463 9200; chungkingstudios.com) is the legendary location which has been dubbed "the Abbey Road of Rap" after framing sessions for such stars as the Beastie Boys and Notorious BIG. Public Enemy's revolutionary 1988 album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was also recorded here.

Los Angeles has also held a pivotal position in the hip-hop tale. LA Hood Life Tours (001 310 722 3737; lahoodlifetours.com) offers a hip-hop tour ($75/£48) that ventures into some of the neighbourhoods which helped ferment the heady brew of west coast "gangsta" rap – South Central, Watts and Compton, the latter booming from speakers with furious clarity on NWA's 1988 album Straight Outta Compton. Chris Leadbeater

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