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Deep Ellum’s History: From Blues to Arts District

Deep Ellum – A Hotbed of Music, Art, and Culture

Deep Ellum - a destination for your Dallas escape

For over 150 years, Deep Ellum has been the vibrant and always-evolving cultural center of downtown Dallas – several city blocks where music venues, eye-catching murals, cutting-edge art galleries, and packed bars make it one of the most exciting places in the city to spend a night out. 

In the years following the Civil War’s end, freed African-Americans flocked to Deep Ellum, welcomed in the burgeoning commercial district alongside immigrants from Europe who came to work in the factories – none other than Henry Ford built an automobile plant here, churning out iconic Model Ts. During the early 1920s, the neighborhood’s character changed, with music venues popping up and drawing in Deep Ellum blues musicians who would hop from stage to stage, planting the seeds of the lively scene still thriving today. 

From our Old East Dallas bed and breakfast, you’re less than two miles away from all the Deep Ellum magic, where phenomenal street art covers every wall, and live music fills the air every evening of the week.

Deep Ellum Blues: Roots

From the earliest days, Deep Ellum has been a mainstay for traveling musicians and blues legends like Blind Lemon Jefferson – one of the giants of Texas blues and unmistakable with his unique high-pitched tenor. It was so well-known and celebrated that the song “Deep Ellum Blues” became a hugely popular tune, covered by numerous bluesmen in the 1920s and 30s and a generation later by Jerry Lee Lewis and the Grateful Dead. Another blues musician who often played in Deep Ellum was Lead Belly, an elder statesman for some of the younger blues players on the scene. He would bring the house down with his ability to jump effortlessly from 12-string guitar and fast-paced bar house piano to Cajun-flavored accordion and bluesy harmonica. Between stints in prison, one of which was pardoned by the Texas governor, he wrote timeless songs like In the Pines, covered by modern artists like Nirvana.

Although the music venues in Deep Ellum don’t cater specifically to the blues as they once did, you can still get a taste at RL’s Blues Palace, where local and national blues acts take the stage every weekend. It’s cash only and BYOB, so stop by Deep Ellum Brewing Company before the show, where you can pick up a 6-pack of their easy-sipping Dallas Blonde or hop-centric Deep Ellum IPA. Once you’re at the Blues Palace, head up to the dance floor in front of the band, where you can move to the rhythm — the spirit of the Deep Ellum blues still alive and well more than a century after it began.

Creativity Around Every Corner – Murals, Galleries, and a Springtime Arts Fest

Deep Ellum’s fascinating backstory has several chapters, including the blues revival in the 1920s, followed by another reimagining in the 1980s and 90s when its now-booming street art became part of the mix. Some of the first murals were painted advertisements on the exterior walls of music venues, displaying in bright colors and fonts which bands were playing soon, a perfect merging of the artistic and musical sides of Deep Ellum. In the forty years since, the street art has only become more bold, diverse and impressive in scope, ranging from a block-long American flag to a wall-sized painting of NBA star Dirk Novitski wearing his Dallas Mavericks jersey and murals depicting blues legends such as Robert Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughn (who was born in Dallas). As you walk up and down the main thoroughfares through Deep Ellum – Elm, Main, and Commercial St – you’ll discover one breathtaking mural after another, each with a distinctive style and theme. For even more mobility, join a guided mural scooter tour or explore on your own on rented e-bikes, available in Deep Ellum at In-City Wheels.

Deep Ellum Murals

To experience the best of Deep Ellum art and music in one spot, look no further than Deep Ellum Art Company, where indoor/outdoor gallery space combines with a world-class music venue. The main indoor gallery hosts rotating artists, including the current exhibition in early 2024, “Music in Frames,” showcasing photography of musicians like Beck, AC/DC, U2, Peter Gabriel, and the Rolling Stones playing at various Dallas venues over the years. Grab a pint of beer from their selection of over 27 on tap before strolling through the outdoor “Art Yard,” featuring street art-style pieces made on durable outdoor panel material, allowing them to be displayed indoors or outdoors. Stay for the live music in their intimate performance space, where you can catch everything from folk rocker Devendra Banhart to Latin American indie rock groups and the rollicking North Mississippi All Stars throughout March and April of 2024.

Rated the best arts festival in the city by the Dallas Observer, don’t miss this year’s edition of the Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair, which takes over the entire arts district during the weekend of April 5-7, 2024. With three outdoor stages of non-stop live music (including one stage called “Blues Alley,” paying homage to the neighborhood’s bluesy beginnings) and over 400 performers, vendors, and artists, it truly celebrates the Deep Ellum artistic community.

Stay with us and dive into Deep Ellum, where music and art take center stage!

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