9 Great Midwest Destinations for Music Lovers

America’s heartland transformed popular music by providing fertile ground for various styles to take root, blossom and cross-pollinate. Explore the history at this greatest hits collection of sites.

As Blacks in the South moved north during the Great Migration of the 20th century, they brought along their musical legacy. Blues, gospel, jazz, ragtime and other styles found homes in Midwest cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and St. Louis, where the genres influenced existing music scenes and provided the ingredients for exciting new hybrids like rock and roll. What's more, big cities gave artists access to wider audiences through live venues and recording studios. Learn about the Midwest's rich musical history at these 9 attractions.

st louis sound missouri history museum
Ryan Donnell

Missouri History Museum, St. Louis

Roll over, Beethoven. Rock's Chuck Berry (a St. Louis native) and ragtime's Scott Joplin (also with Missouri ties) are among music legends sharing the bill at St. Louis Sound Reprise—a hallway installation featuring content from the original St. Louis Sound exhibit (above). Shop for recordings at nearby Vintage Vinyl, or record your own blues track in an interactive exhibit at the National Blues Museum downtown.

American Jazz Museum Kansas City
American Jazz Museum. Courtesy of Visit KC

American Jazz Museum, Kansas City, Missouri

Celebrate the syncopation, improvisation and jubilation of America's unique musical form—art form, really—in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District. Interactive exhibits and films spotlight KC jazz masters like Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Big Joe Turner who shaped the sounds of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Hear today's jazz in The Blue Room, a working club connected to the museum, or across the street at The Gem Theater, where a restored 1912 facade disguises a modern 500-seat performing arts center.

Concert at KEMBA.
Rainer Ziehm

Columbus Live Music Trail, Columbus, Ohio

See the stages Columbus-rooted artists like Twenty One Pilots, Rascal Flatts and Dwight Yoakam played before they hit it big. The trail covers more than 40 live music spots across a Spotify spectrum: pop, punk, rock, rap, jazz, bluegrass and more. Stops include famed jazz joint Dick's Den, venerable rock club Newport Music Hall, laundromat/bar Dirty Dungarees and music hall/kitchen Natalie's Grandview. Some venues, such as Cafe Bourbon Street and Ace of Cups, are featured in the recent film, Poser, a thriller set in Columbus' underground music scene.

rock and roll hall of fame elvis cleveland ohio
Bob Stefko

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland

Huey Lewis was right: the heart of rock and roll is still beating in Cleveland. Many call it rock's birthplace—local DJ Alan Freed promoted the music. The hall's induction ceremony (November 5 this year) is a career capper for artists and must-see entertainment for fans, while the I.M. Pei-designed museum is the world's biggest boxed set of music and mementos: a Jimi Hendrix guitar (one he didn't set on fire), The Supremes' dresses, an Elvis motorcycle, John Lennon's Sgt. Pepper's duds and Kurt Cobain's death certificate.

The Rolling Stones at Chess Exhibit
Courtesy of Chess Records

Chess Records, Chicago

Get your mojo working in the South Side building where Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf and the Rolling Stones laid down blues, soul, jazz and rock tracks in the 1950s and 1960s. Brothers Leonard and Phil Chess created their record label to fill the demand for Black performers' music. Sit in the recording studio—still used—and picture a young Etta James at the mic. Pause in the lobby where musicians chilled. Much of the decor is original, but not the front window: Harmonica player Little Walter supposedly got mad and drove into it.

hitsville usa michigan historic site
Kevin J. Miyazaki

Motown Museum, Detroit

Stop—in the name of love—at the unassuming house Berry Gordy Jr. used to build the global music empire called Motown Records. The site, aka Hitsville U.S.A., launched the careers of Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5 and others. Stand in Studio A, where the musical magic happened, amid vintage instruments and equipment. See the control room's original recording equipment and floor (worn from feet stomping to the beat). Upstairs, view the apartment where Gordy lived with his young family.

Paisley Park foyer in Minnesota.
Courtesy of Paisley Park

Paisley Park, Chanhassen, Minnesota

Purple reigns at Prince's long-time home, creative sanctuary and (still active) production complex 20 minutes southwest of Minneapolis. Named for a utopian Prince song, the site hosts tours, concerts, festivals and special events. Tours offers peeks at concert fashions, awards, musical instruments, artwork, motorcycles and rare videos of the artist who once changed his name to a love symbol. A current exhibit highlights Prince's collection of custom shoes—300-plus pairs, including 4-inch boots and suede light-up roller skates.

Exterior shot of Surf Ballroom Clear Lake Iowa
Courtesy of Surf Ballroom

Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa

A long, long time ago (the night of February 2, 1959), Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) performed here. Early on February 3, they died in a plane crash outside of town. Don McLean's "American Pie" called it "The day the music died," but there's an afterlife: The Surf still hosts concerts, including an annual Winter Dance Party tribute. Tour the ballroom to see its historic stage and original dance floor, booths and coat checks. The pay phone Holly used to call his wife is off the lobby entrance.

Hard Rock Casino, Gary, Indiana
Courtesy of Hard Rock Casino, Gary, Indiana

Hard Rock Casino, Gary, Indiana

Enjoy yourself at this gaming, dining and live music mecca not far from the Gary home where Joe and Katherine Jackson raised six sons and three daughters. As a group and through solo careers, the Jacksons became one of the most successful families in music history. The casino's decor incorporates Joe's guitar—his sons would sneak off with it—and costumes worn by the Jackson 5. The site's Hard Rock Cafe displays the red jacket Michael wore in his "Beat It" video, one of his trademark glittery gloves, and a pair of shoes he did the moonwalk in.

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