We’re planning to spend the weekend from May 4th to 6th in Nashville and Memphis, but haven’t quite decided on when we make the transition from country to blues. Thus, we might have either one or two days to spend here.
Memphis is the where the blues was born, and with Louis being the up and coming king of Norwegian blues, the visit to Memphis will be in the spirit of music.
(Almost) coincidental, the Beale Street Music Festival takes place in Memphis from May 4th to 6th - you’re right, that’s the weekend we’re spending in the area! Unfortunately, this will probably mean that the place will be packed with people, but on the other side: It’ll probably be even more great music than usual as well.
One day or two, festival or not - here are some of the things we might check out while in Memphis:
Neon Lights on Beale Street, courtesy of cordan
- Beale Street
- You can’t visit the Blues capital without checking out Beale Street, located west in Memphis, going all the way down to the Tom Lee Park at the Mississippi riverside. Lined with clubs, it’s the heart of entertainment in Memphis. Among the many clubs, the B.B. King’s Blues Club is probably a must-see.
- Is it legal to visit Memphis without paying tribute to the King? The home of Elvis Presley is located at 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard (duh!), and self guided audio tours of the estate (including the Automobile Museum and tours of this two jets) are available every day. Why not make sure this stays the second most visited private residence in the United States (behind the White House)..?
- Sun Studio
- The young Elvis started his career at Sun Studio, which was started by rock pioneer Sam Phillips in 1953. Ike Turner was hired as a talent scout to search the Beale Street clubs for new talents, and among his findings was his own girlfriend, Anna Mae Bullock - better known as Tina Turner. Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins are just some of the other famous artists who were signed to Sun.
Sun Studio is located ten minutes walk east of Beale Street, at 706 Union Ave.
Sun Studio, courtesy of zoonabar
- The Stax Museum of American Soul Music
- Stax Records was another Memphis based record label, and started out as a tiny record store in an old movie theater at the corner of McLemora Avenue and College Street. After turning into Stax Records in 1959, the label launched the career of many known artists such as Isaac Heyes, Otis Redding and Booker T. & the MG’s.
Stax went bancrupt in 1976, but is relaunching this year (today, actually - with the release of Stax 50: A 50th Anniversary Celebration) with Isaac Heyes and Angie Stone as signed-on acts.
Today the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is located at the original site of Stax Records, and pays tribute to the artists who recorded there as well as other well-known soul artists.
- Smithsonian Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
- The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is located at 191 Beale Street, and tells the story of the development of rock and soul through a digital audio tour through seven galleries.
- The Peabody Hotel
- While todays hotel was built in 1925, the original Peabody Hotel dates back to 1869. Lansky’s boutique inside the hotel is owned and operated by Elvis’s personal tailor, Bernard Lansky. If watching the display of Elvis outfits and memorabilia isn’t exciting enough, then what about the weird tradition that has taken place since the 1930s: Every day at 11 am the five Peabody Ducks are escorted from their penthouse home to the lobby fountain, accompanied by a Sousa march. The Peabody Hotel is located at 149 Union Ave.
- National Civil Rights Museum (Lorraine Motel)
- The Lorraine Motel at 450 Mulberry Street was built in 1925, and was originally accessible only to whites. But after WWII the hotel became a popular black establishment, with guests such as Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, B.B. King and Nat King Cole. Partly because of its historical importance to the black community of Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King chose to stay at the Lorraine during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike. At April 4th 1968, Dr. King was assassinated outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel.
- After some years of economic struggle, the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation was formed to make sure the historic site was saved. Today the National Civil Rights Museum is located here at the old Lorraine Motel.
Lorraine Motel, courtesy of mmwm
- Beale Street Baptist Church
- We plan to spend Sunday May 6th in Memphis (unless we head down to Clarksdale), and would like to experience a Sunday Service in an African-American church. One alternative is the Beale Street Baptist Church, located at 379 Beale Street, which was the first and largest African-American Missionary Church, built just after the Civil War. In the 1890s, Ida B. Wells used the basement of the church to publish the Free Speech and Headlights newspaper, one of the first newspapers written specifically for an African-American audience. Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt are among the U.S. presidents who addressed the congregation at the historic black church.
- Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church
- Another alternative is the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, where the Gospel music is supposedly so great that it is broadcast on three local radio stations. The MBCC Memphis is located at 70 North Bellevue, and its worship service is at 11:00 a.m on Sundays.
Memphis in the movies
Memphis is, of course, featured in many films about Elvis - as well as a number of other movies. Hustle and Flow was shot here, scenes from Walk the Line are located in Memphis and several of the John Grisham-based flicks have some action taking place here.
Jim Jarmusch’ great flick Mystery Train shows three intertwining stories taking place one night in Memphis. The movie features shots from Sun studio, Chaucher, Beale and Main Street, A. Schwab on Beale, Arcade Café, the statue of Elvis - among other Memphis sights (and a couple of references to Lansky’s).
What others say about Memphis
- Tennessee Vacation - official site.
- Memphis at Wikitravel.
- Memphis guide at TripAdvisor.
- Most popular in Memphis according to people at 43 places.
- Scott Stanton, Roadtrip America: Memphis to New Orleans.
- Bill and Barbara Windsor of Round America visit Memphis.
Got tips? Comments? Do tell!