Gulf Coast Highway

Experience the cultural richness of America through a musical road trip along US-90


Age range: high school

Estimated Time: This series of podcasts lasts about 90 minutes altogether.

Key Technology: You can use a computer or mp3 player with speakers (or headphones).

Subscribe to this audio series:

The Gulf Coast Highway knits together the rich diversity of music and cultures of communities across five states, from Houston, Texas, to Jacksonville, Florida. In this series of podcasts, high school students will learn how the diverse styles of blues, choral music, Cajun, zydeco, brass band, border music, and gospel meet and mingle in the Gulf Coast region. Students will hear anecdotes and insights from scholars and renowned musicians like Nanci Griffith, Grupo Fantasma, Clarence Fountain, and Marcia Ball.

Think About...

  • Before you get started, find the Gulf Coast on a map and identify the states and localities discussed in the podcasts: Laredo, TX; Houston, TX; East Texas; Lafayette, LA; New Orleans, LA; Clarksdale, MS; Alabama; Tallahassee, FL.
  • As you listen, compare and contrast the ways in which speakers describe the influences on their music.
  • After each podcast, sum up what you have learned in your own words.
  • The podcasts are downloadable- grab them for your MP3 player for repeated listening.


  • This podcast series explores regional musical styles and the communities that influence each type of music. How do the heritage of the Latin, African-American, Cajun, and other communities mentioned influence the music of the Gulf region?
  • What foreign influences have shaped Gulf Coast musical traditions?
  • Discuss the effect of Hurricane Katrina on music in New Orleans and how the music scene has worked to recover.
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama say they learned to sing by listening to a Jubilee-style gospel group on the radio and identifying the specific characteristics they admired. What were those characteristics?

Critical Thinking

  • Grupo Fantasma members describe the influences on their music, including their Latino heritage and the funk and hip-hop music they grew up with. Even if you’re not a musician, list some of the influences on your own cultural experience.
  • Grupo Fantasmo also talks about “disposable music” vs. music that lasts. Marcia Ball says that musical styles come and go, but “the blues remains because it’s about people.” Do you agree that some genres of music are more lasting than others? Why or why not?
  • Songwriter Nanci Griffith quotes Roy Orbison explaining what’s special about Texas songwriters, saying, “There’s nothing to look at in Texas, so you learn to use your imagination early in life.” How has your state or town affected the way you see the world?
  • Michael Doucet of the Cajun band Beausoleil said that speaking French was looked down upon when he was growing up. Members of Grupa Fantasma said that one special thing about where they live is that nearly everyone is bilingual in Spanish and English. What languages are spoken where you live, and how are these languages viewed?
  • Throughout history, music has served social, religious, entertainment, escapist, and political purposes. Recall examples of these different purposes as described in the podcasts.
  • Many musicians featured in the podcasts describe how old traditions and musical styles have evolved over time due to new music technologies such as the electric guitar, or societal changes such as the racial dynamics that once distinguished zydeco from Cajun music. Can you identify more examples?
  • Kip Lornell of George Washington University claims that blues music is the most important form of American music developed in the 20th century. After listening to the segment on Delta blues, ask students if they agree or disagree with Lornell.
  • Blues, gospel, and brass band music influenced both rock-and-roll and hip-hop. How? List specific evidence of this from the podcasts or observation.


  • Which of the musical styles featured in the series do you find most interesting. Why?
  • Which musical style most closely resembles your favorite music? How is it similar or different?

Learn More

Dig Deeper!

Visit the websites of the musicians interviewed in this series to hear more of their music and learn more about them:

For the Educator

In a series of nine audio clips, Artsedge samples the musical diversity of the Gulf Coast. The podcast include not only a wonderful variety of music, but also conversations with musicians like Marcia Ball and Nanci Griffith and members of groups like Grupo Fantasma, Beausoleil, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Instructional Strategies

While listening, have students create a graphic organizer that shows the information they learn. They might want to make a timeline, an illustrated map, or a flow chart showing how to become a musician.

Follow up with one or more of these activities:

  • Listen again to allow students to fine-tune their graphic organizers, adding and correcting information. Then give some time to complete the graphics.
  • Have students start an oral history project in their communities. What kind of music (or other art form) is unique to, or especially popular in, your community? What local bands are successful? Invite students to interview local legends and ask them how the community has shaped their music.
  • Choose a simple, well-known song such as “The Alphabet Song” and try to arrange and perform it in one or more of the styles presented in the podcasts.
  • Choose one of the locations along the Gulf Highway and research it thoroughly. Allow class presentations or have a celebration in the style of the place chosen.



Rebecca Haden

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