The Mississippi River has inspired generations of musicians to write songs about it. In the list below, you will find songs that go back to the beginning of recorded music and others that were recorded in the past year. Many of the songs are from genres we now call roots music or Americana—traditional blues and country—but the list also includes a number of rock songs, modern country, jazz, and soul. I haven’t come across many hip hop songs, yet, but I’m still looking.
Check back often, as I’m continually updating the table. The first time I posted the list, it included about 70 songs; you can see how long the list is now.
HINT: Check out the piece I wrote about the history of music along the Mississippi River.
I’m rather obsessive when it comes to making lists. I like making them, and I like figuring out criteria to make them work. I’m weird that way. After spending a couple of months compiling this list, I realized that my first set of criteria just weren’t going to work. They were too broad, mostly because I wanted to include songs about places along the river, even if the river isn’t mentioned. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I was creating a list without end, especially after I found a web site that listed over 1000 songs about Memphis alone. I can only imagine the number of songs that have been written about New Orleans. In the revised list, I have therefore dropped songs that didn’t at least mention the Mississippi River, even if it is about a river town, which I had to drop some of my favorite songs likes St. Louis Blues and Going Back to Memphis. Maybe someday I’ll do a separate list of songs about river towns.
So here are the simple rules I am following now to decide whether a song is about the Mississippi River:
- The song is about the Mississippi River (duh!); or
- The lyrics or song title reference the Mississippi River; or
- The song is about a river without naming the Mississippi specifically but composed by or performed by an artist who lives/lived along the Mississippi River; or
- The lyrics are a bit ambiguous (is it about the state of Mississippi? the River Mississippi?), but I think it’s close enough. It is my list, after all.
Some of the songs in
this list are classics that have been recorded multiple times by many artists. I doubt if I’ll ever get around to listing each version of those songs, but right now I’m trying to include the first recorded version plus any other versions that I think are fun or interesting. This is why I’ve included several versions of Ol’ Man River. like the reggae interpretation by The Techniques.
Between you and me, I don’t care for every song on the list, but that doesn’t really matter; I’m just trying to compile a list t of songs about the Mississippi River Valley. I’ll let you decide which ones you like and which you don’t.
Right now, these are my favorites:
- A Change is Gonna Come. Sam Cooke
- Big River. Johnny Cash
- Down to Memphis. J.J. Cale
- Floating Bridge. Sleepy John Estes
- Lee County Flood. William Elliott Whitmore
- Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man. Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty
- Miss the Mississippi and You. Jimmie Rodgers
- Mississippi. Ray Bonneville
- Mississippi Moon. Greg Brown
- Mississippi River Blues. Big Bill Broonzy
- Proud Mary. Ike & Tina Turner
- Shanty Boat Blues. Jimmy Murphy
- To Be Free. Fontella Bass
- Watching the River Flow. Leon Russell
This is Mississippi River Songs version 2.0. Feel free to tell me about other songs about the Mississippi River, and let’s grow this list.
By the way, each week I post a Song of the Day blog that features one of these tunes. Subscribe to this blog (just look to the top right corner of this page), and you won’t miss those posts.
NEW. I’ve created a playlist in Spotify that includes many of these songs. Get to it here .
Notes about the table. The first recorded version of each song is noted with an asterisk (*). Some song titles have been used by multiple songwriters, which makes compiling a list like this a challenge. To help you tell the difference between a remake of an existing song and a new song that just happens to have the the same title as an existing song, I’m using superscripts (numbers) to set the versions apart. So, each song with a superscript “1” is the same song recorded by different artists, while a superscript “2” for that same title indicates that it is a different song.
Songs about the Mississippi River
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