While Nashville has attracted a lot of attention across America and from around the world as a center of music (country in particular), Memphis, a significant city sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River on Tennessee’s western border also occupies a place of importance in the musical history of the United States, and indeed, the world.
It was here in the early 20th century where a musical discipline known as the blues emerged from clubs in its heart. While the creation of this type of musical expression is noteworthy enough in its own right, it provided the base elements for the creation of one of the world’s most popular types of music today. If it wasn’t for the blues, rock and roll would not exist.
Its godfather, Elvis Presley made this city his home, and from that moment on, a generation of inspired youngsters would buy guitars and drum sets and follow in his footsteps, creating much of the musical landscape we know today.
If you visit Nashville but miss Memphis while in Tennessee, you will be missing out on where much of modern musical culture began, so give this charming burg at least a few days … just don’t forget to wear your blue suede shoes!
A visit to Memphis without a visit to Graceland would be a sad one indeed, so even if you aren’t a fan of The King of Rock And Roll, spend at least an hour exploring his palatial estate. From the wrought iron gate shaped by notes from a page of sheet music, to the overt signs of wealth (two of Elvis’ private planes can be found on the grounds), and the downright bizarre Jungle Room, causal visitors will get as much out of this place as hardcore fans will.
In order to appreciate the success that Elvis Presley has able to enjoy, tour the Beale Street Historic District, which contains many of the jazz and blue clubs where these progenitors to rock were nurtured and created.
In addition to the music heard in the clubs, festivals take place on this nearly 2 mile strip throughout the year, and those looking for nightlife will find plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from here.
Not all of the aspects of Memphis’ past are pleasant, as one of the world’s foremost civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King Jr., was gunned down in this city in 1969. This tragic event did lead to the creation of the National Civil Rights Museum though, which chronicles the struggle for equality among all humans from the days of slavery to the mass protests that defined the 1960’s. There is no better place in the South to learn about this sensitive subject, so be sure to pencil it in on your itinerary.
Those looking for a more in-depth education when it comes to the music that was created over the past century in this musically important metropolis can get filled in on the details at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.
Here, you’ll learn how musicians of all backgrounds came together to create some of the world’s best music, starting from the days of jug bands to the rise of rock music from the bars of Beale Street.
Not far from the clubs on Beale was Sun Studio, where the sounds of these musical pioneers were recorded, marketed and sold to the world. A long list of music’s former legends and stars have laid down singles here, including the likes of B.B. King, Johnny Cash and the one and only Elvis Presley, so be sure to stop by to check out the musical history on display here.
Finally, end your trip to Memphis on a laid back note by taking a stroll along the Mississippi River. Tom Lee Park can be found here, with runners, jogger and cyclists taking advantage of the paths and excellent waterfront views that can be had here.
Beale Street Landing is the perfect place to go for a drink at sunset as you admire the sun sinking into the western horizon as you face one of America’s greatest rivers.