Jazz was born in New Orleans. Soon after, it escaped up the Mississippi to the North's industrial cities as the trainloads of musicians and poor black workers fled the South's harsh, racially-based laws. In Tennessee, jazz, blues and country fused, laying the foundations for rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues, travelling up the tracks to the bustling ballrooms of Chicago.
It's through this musical highway that the luxury rail carriage service, Pullman Rail Journeys, wends.
Travelling in revamped, 1950s style, guests are privy to multi-course meals, bottomless cocktails, bathroom toiletries and, at the upper end of the accommodation scale, large double beds with private en suites.
Keep an eye out for some of the 50s quirks, left intact: shoe boxes where train-riders would place their shoes to be scuffed while they slept; original fabrics, plates, cutlery, and the porters' white-jacket-and-bow-tie uniform; plus, my favourite, fold-out sinks that flip back into the wall, sending your sink-full tumbling into the magical depths.
If you have plenty of time to travel, it's a veritable treat to watch the countryside roll by in air-conditioned comfort, chat with nostalgic train-fanatics over the lounge car's board games, and sup martinis, made to your taste by Jack, the cheery porter.
And, coinciding with Memphis' Elvis Week, August is the time to do it, if you can handle the oppressive heat.
First stop: New Orleans
Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong is undoubtedly this city's best-loved celebrity. For the past 14 years he has been celebrated at the Satchmo Festival, a small, two-stage festival in early August, showcasing the creme-de-la-creme of local talent. Still not satisfied? Head to Frenchmen St to find bars packed with locals, oozing jazz.
Bring your linen
It's hot here in August. Really, stinking hot. The White Linen festival, held on the first Saturday in August, is a sight to behold. Celebrating both the summer heat and the creative arts, white-linen-clad punters take to gallery-laden Julia St. The following week, the same sullied clothes can be resurrected at the historic French Quarter's Dirty Linen festival, where local food, frozen daiquiris and tiny galleries and antique shops are the order of the day.
Second stop: Memphis
During Elvis Week (mid-August), fans with greying quiffs and Elvis tattoos flood the city. Its blues-infused clubs are rammed with Elvis tribute artists and screaming grannies.
There are a whole host of activities, from live music to Backbeat Tours' unmissable Elvis-themed "Hound Dog" bus tour, which explores the city's Elvis hot-spots, from his high school to his favourite diner. The musician-guide dishes out Elvis trivia and some of the King's hits on a 50s-style microphone (sing-alongs are encouraged). Pay extra to visit Lauderdale Courts, the state housing complex where the Presleys first lived after moving from Mississippi. Fans can even add a lipsticked kiss to the hundreds covering the wall of Elvis' former room.
Celebrating the life and death of the King, more than 30,000 Elvis-paraphernalia-clad fans congregate outside Graceland, the King's former home, for the main event of the week, the candle light vigil. Bizarre home-made Elvis shrines line the streets as night falls while Elvis-lovers wait for their turn to carry a candle to his grave.
Cross Graceland off your bucket list, but be sure to arrive early and shell out for the VIP tickets for shorter queues and repeated access to the house. Last year, Graceland unveiled its new, fact-packed, interactive iPad tour of Elvis' home, the archives show (a rotating selection of rare pictures, interviews and a selection of Elvis' belongings), plus the Elvis auction (which looks set to be an annual event). The latter offers the chance to take home their own pricey piece of history (Elvis' last Cadillac, a 1977, two-tone silver and maroon Seville sold for US$81,250).
While you're there:
The refurbished National Civil Rights museum provides a sobering insight into African-American history, from slavery to segregation. Housed in the Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated, it celebrates the revolutionaries who fought for civil rights, from pacifist preachers to Malcolm X and those who attempted "sit-ins" at white-only diner counters.
Details: Pullman Rail Journeys' carriages (attached to the back of national rail operator Amtrak's carriages but separately run) leave from New Orleans and can stop at Memphis if requested. They run from New Orleans to Chicago, and back again. Be sure to plan ahead as Pullman services are infrequent. However, Amtrak runs a daily service that also connects New Orleans to Chicago. travelpullman.com
For more information: Visit DiscoverAmerica.com
Sophie Barclay was a guest of Pullman Rail Journeys, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Graceland and the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.