Around 1885, fresh out of college and ready to make his mark on the world, Will Dockery left his parents’ farm. With a gift and parting words from his grandmother, “Will,” here’s a thousand dollars and the world to make a living in, and that’s all we can do for you” and credit from an uncle who was in the cotton business in Memphis, he ventured to Cleveland, Mississippi, a small settlement near the Sunflower River. As a first step, Dockery bought land and a sawmill and went into the local lumber business.
By 1895, Will Dockery owned 40 square miles of land, bisected by the river. While much of the property was wooded and wild, not cultivated land, he optimistically named it Dockery Farms in hopes of it becoming a successful plantation. Succeed he did, and in the 1920s and ’30s, Will Dockery and his farm workers designed and built most of the structures that stand there today. The materials used were typical of the time, including cypress wood frame construction with corrugated tin roofs, cypress siding, corrugated tin siding and asphalt brick image roll siding. These buildings remain as outstanding examples of Mississippi Delta plantation architecture in the early 20th century.
Dockery Farms is considered by many, including blues legend B.B. King, to be the birthplace of the blues. While there is no absolute certainty where the blues had its beginnings, there is widespread agreement among artists, fans and scholars of this music that Dockery Farms was pivotal for the development and eventual spread of the blues throughout America. This historic plantation community, located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, was established by Will Dockery in 1895 to produce cotton – America’s most important export of the 19th and early 20th century. African Americans who came to Dockery Farms to cultivate cotton created a culture through their work in the fields that inspired the music we know as the blues.
Dockery Farms, located in Cleveland, MS, is the birthplace of the blues. If you are thinking about touring the Blues Trail, start at Dockery Farms to learn where it all started.
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When visiting the site, please push the red button behind the Birthplace of the Blues sign, and Charlie Patton will sing for you. Inside the Cotton Gin a video plays 24/7 with people born at Dockery or who lived at Dockery as children telling their stories about their early times spent at Dockery. On the front porch of the Service Station a video plays 24/7 with B. B. King welcoming you to, as he says, the Birthplace of the Blues. The music and videos provide visitors a true sense of place and insight to the Birthplace of the Blues.
The Dockery Farms site is also available for weddings, parties, and meetings. Prices to rent the site are available on request.
On Sunday afternoon, April 24th, 2016, the Dockery Foundation hosted a very special musical experience featuring the Tedeschi Trucks Band playing live on the Dockery grounds before over a thousand friends and visitors. Performing at Dockery was an opportunity for this Grammy award winning 12 member blues band to experience playing in the very same place that Charlie Patton and so many of the early bluesmen called their home. Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi first learned about Dockery from liner notes of old blues records and saw the video clip with B B King talking about how it all
began at Dockery. Derek said “a lot of our heroes have played at Dockery and came from the area, so it’s an honor for us. We look forward to meeting the people and learning more about the experience. We’ll take a spoonful of dirt and put it on the bus and sprinkle it around.
Rosanne and her husband, John, kept a large crowd on their feet late in the afternoon and into the night in June 2015 as they performed on the Cotton Platform at Dockery, the birthplace of the Blues.
We will continue to add new videos to our collection so check back often!