I’ve always been intrigued by the South and frankly, while I’ve lived in Florida, been to New Orleans, Austin and Atlanta dozens of times, my experience with Southern states has been minimal. 

I first fell in love with Tennessee during a cross country trip last year so I was excited about the opportunity to go hang gliding and take in the music scene in Chattanooga this past June, a new city stop for me.

Swing music lovers will know Chattanooga from the song it made famous. For years, my legs and feet went into smooth flowing swing outs to the Chattanooga Choo Choo on hard wooden floors from Catalina Island and Mexico in the west and Boston and New York in the east to dance camps in London and Paris across the pond. Its charming lyrics and rhythms always brought a smile and transformed my mood regardless of where in the world my toes were tapping and hips were swaying.

Eager to learn a bit more about its birth, staying at the historical Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel in the center of town, known as the Southside District, was the perfect place for my first stop. Apparently this busy and happening neighborhood is not just known for its nightlife, cafes and restaurants, but it’s also become a trendy place for locals to live if they want to be “in the know” and close to cultural activities.

Rewind the clock to the 1940’s and 1950’s at a time in Chattanooga’s Big 9 District when locals were making music. The main drag was loaded with bars that bore names like White Elephant Saloon and many of these buildings are where music greats such as Bessie Smith and Roland Hayes once played. For those not familiar with Bessie Smith, she was born in Chattanooga, grew up playing on the city’s streets and is historically known as the “Empress of the Blues.”

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Published by the Huffington Post on July 5, 2016: Written by Renee Blodgett