At the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas, music lovers can discover how blues and gospel music grew along the Arkansas Delta. The Center comprises two buildings: a Visitor’s Center on Cherry Street in Helena, Arkansas, and The Depot, a former train depot located on Missouri Street, one block south of the Visitors Center.
Visitors Center Music Exhibits and Radio Station
Opened in May 2000, the Visitors Center is home to permanent music exhibits, temporary exhibits, and a live radio station. The Delta Sounds exhibit tells the story of the music of the Arkansas Delta—blues, gospel, and rockabilly—and its impact on the area in the past century. You’ll learn about the many musicians with roots in the area, like blues legends Sonny Boy Williamson, Louis Jordan, Robert Lockwood, Jr., James Cotton, Robert Nighthawk, and Albert King, and country/rock musicians Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Levon Helm, and Charlie Rich.
Among the gospel greats you’ll learn about are Helena’s own Roberta Martin, whose career spanned more than 35 years, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a star of the 1930s who performed in Harlem’s famed Cotton Club as well as Carnegie Hall. Listening stations located throughout the Delta Sounds exhibit let you experience the music.
A stage inside the Visitors Center often hosts live concerts featuring local musicians. The Delta Cultural Center (DCC) outdoor stage on Helena’s historic Cherry Street is the centerpiece for Helena’s blues and gospel festivals.
The longest running blues radio show in the world, King Biscuit Time, is broadcast from the Visitors Center, weekdays from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. It’s hosted by the legendary “Sunshine” Sonny Payne. The 87-year-old’s first broadcast of King Biscuit Time was in 1942. Visitors to the studio can watch the broadcast, and sometimes Payne even puts unsuspecting visitors on the air.