Welcome to Memphis, Tennessee, the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock ‘n roll. Memphis has something to offer everybody, but it is the music, food and historic relevance of the place that makes “Bluff City” an absolute must on your travel wish list.
The music scene is thriving, with a magnificent array of traditional blues and rock ‘n roll clubs. In fact The Beale Street Historic District has been so faithfully protected that visiting the area is a neon lit step back in time to the night spots and blues clubs of another era. Dining in Memphis is a delicious mix of ingredients that include Memphis style dry barbeque, innovative and sophisticated upscale kitchens and every variation in between. Additionally, the City of Memphis, in concert with numerous civic partners and private donors, has created a group of museums and institutions that are unparalleled in scope and quality. They tell the Memphis story from the earliest days of the Delta sharecroppers, to gospel, soul and rock ‘n roll, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all that came after.
Of course, Memphis is home to the King’s palace; Graceland, one of the most visited private homes in America and a one-of-a-kind experience that has to be seen to believe. Now, we are going to share it all with you. So come along as we discover the special blend of southern hospitality that is “Memphis…in a Day.”
National Civil Rights Museum
A Catalyst to Change
Located in the historic art district of downtown Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum is the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on that fateful day back in April 1968 – an event that sparked a turning point in the civil rights movement.
An American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader of the African-American civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who became known for his advancement of civil rights for all Americans. Today, the story of his untimely demise and the legacy he leaves behind lives on at the National Civil Rights Museum. Through its collections, exhibitions, research, and educational programs, the National Civil Rights Museum promotes a better understanding of the lessons of the civil rights movement and its impact and influence on human rights movements worldwide. A Memphis area must-see, the museum chronicles the civil rights movement with historical exhibits, including Room 306, the hotel room where Dr. King stayed in April of 1968. The museum was dedicated on July 4, 1991, and officially opened to the public on September 28, 1991, and has since hosted over three million visitors. Accredited by the American Association of Museums and one of only five U.S. accredited international sites of conscience, the National Civil Rights Museum is one of the top premier heritage and cultural museums in the nation.
In 1999, the museum acquired the properties facing it, the former Canipe’s Amusement store and rooming house, where convicted assassin James Earl Ray stayed under the alias of John Willard and was alleged to have fired the deadly shot. This facility became the Exploring the Legacy expansion to the museum, which opened to the public on Sept. 28, 2002.
“I may not get there with you but I want you to know that we as people will get to the promised land. ” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mountaintop Speech, April 3, 1968, Memphis
How the Museum Came to Be
The aftershock of Dr. King’s assassination eventually plunged the Lorraine into a long and steep decline. The motel’s owner, Walter Lane Bailey, maintained two rooms, 306 and 307, as a shrine to Dr. King and in memory of his wife Loree who died days after the assassination. Realizing the symbolic significance of the Lorraine, Mr. Bailey searched for help to maintain the property as a civil rights shrine. He reached out to Mr. Chuck Scruggs, program director of local radio station WDIA radio and the “Save the Lorraine” campaign was born.
A group of prominent Memphians, concerned that this historical site would be destroyed through continued neglect and indifference, formed the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation and in 1984 changed its name to the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation. Under the leadership of local attorney and activist, D’Army Bailey, the Foundation raised enough money to purchase the property on the courthouse steps at a public auction for $144,000. Using a design report by former Smithsonian Institution curator, Benjamin Lawless, the foundation moved forward to create the educational facility and memorial site that today is the National Civil Rights Museum.
Currently, exhibits in the Lorraine Motel are closed for renovation, but exhibits in the Legacy Building remain open for tours.
National Civil Rights Museum
Memphis, TN 38103
No visit to Memphis is complete without a tour of Elvis Presley’s world-famous Graceland. Opened to the public in 1982 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, Graceland boasts over 600,000 visitors each year, is one of the five most visited home tours in the United States. It is the most famous home in America after The White House.
Experience Elvis Presley’s Graceland
Take an unforgettable journey through the most famous rock ‘n roll residence in the world. Explore the personal life of Elvis Presley and learn how his revolutionary style and unique sound changed the face of popular music and culture forever. This legendary rock ‘n roll pilgrimage will show you why Elvis lives.
Step inside Graceland Mansion and follow in the same steps as Elvis himself as you enjoy an audio-guided tour featuring commentary and stories by Elvis and his daughter Lisa Marie. See where Elvis lived, relaxed and spent time with his friends and family. The Graceland Mansion tour includes Elvis’ living room, music room, parents’ bedroom, dining room, kitchen, TV room, poolroom and the famous Jungle Room. After touring the Mansion, check out the other great parts of the 14-acre estate as you tour Vernon Presley’s business office and Elvis’ racquetball building. Also part of the Mansion tour you’ll visit Elvis’ trophy building that houses an amazing collection of his gold and platinum records, as well as other great memorabilia from Elvis’ early career, his movies, his charitable endeavors and more. The final stop on the tour of Graceland Mansion is Meditation Garden where Elvis and members of his family have been laid to rest.
Elvis Presley Car Museum
Elvis loved cars and the Elvis Presley Car Museum displays some of his favorites. Stroll down a tree-lined street to see over 33 vehicles owned by Elvis. Highlights include his famous Pink Cadillac, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Stutz Blackhawks, a 1975 Dino Ferrari, a 1956 Cadillac El Dorado Convertible, the red MG from Blue Hawaii and more. Also, see some of Elvis’ favorite motorized toys including a go-cart, dune buggy, motorized three-wheelers and a pedal car. Some newer additions to the Elvis Presley Car Museum include his Rolls Royce sedans, 6-door Mercedes Benz limousine and Elvis’ John Deere 4010 tractor that he used on his ranch and at Graceland.
Elvis’ Custom Jets
Elvis purchased a 1958 Convair 880 in April 1975 and named it Lisa Marie after his daughter. He spent more than $800,000 having the jet remodeled. Climb aboard his customized jet that features a living room, conference room, sitting room, and private bedroom, as well as gold-plated seat belts, suede chairs, leather covered tables, 24-karat gold-flecked sinks and more. Then, take a peek inside Elvis’ smaller Lockheed Jet Star, customized by Elvis with a yellow and green interior, that was primarily used for taking Elvis’ manager and his staff from city to city on his concert tours.
Celebrate Elvis’ love for Hawaii and the 40th anniversary of “Aloha from Hawaii” in this new exhibit for 2013. This is the first exhibit to explore Elvis’ connection with the islands. The exhibit allows you to experience Elvis’ Hawaii and see why it was one of his favorite places to vacation. The exhibit features never-before-seen footage of Elvis, several of his jumpsuits worn during his concerts in Hawaii, and color footage of Elvis’ first Hawaiian concert.
ICON : The Influence of Elvis Presley Presented by Fender
Curated by the Graceland archives team in partnership with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, this groundbreaking exhibit features 75 artifacts on loan from the famed Cleveland museum, along with items from the collections of many of today’s biggest names in music who have been influenced by the King of Rock ‘n Roll. The exhibit celebrates Elvis’ status as a music pioneer and icon that paved the way for many of today’s artists and celebrities.
3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard
Memphis, TN 38116
For more information, visit elvis.com or call (901) 332-3329
The Peabody Memphis & Lansky Brothers
For your visit to Memphis, we recommend the historic The Peabody Memphis. The Peabody Memphis anchors the corner of Union and 2nd Street, a few blocks from the historic Beale Street District, The Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, The Gibson Guitar Factory, and The Lorraine Motel, now the site of The Martin Luther King Civil Rights Museum. Much more than a majestic brick inn, opulent furnishings, marching ducks and impeccable service, the venerable Memphis landmark has served as the unifying center of Memphis commerce, music and society for over eight decades.
The Peabody Memphis was home base for the seminal negotiations of the country’s foremost cotton traders. Then it provided a safe and welcoming place for the roots of rock ‘n roll to flourish in harmony with the earliest beginnings of soul music, and was a gathering place for the leaders of the emerging civil rights movement.
It is where Elvis attended his first high school prom and signed his first contract with Sun Records (at 17) and where Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, the creators of the Memphis Soul Powerhouse, Stax Records, met to share the events of the day.
Go there to soak up the history, music, food, and soul that make Memphis a place like no other.
The Peabody Ducks
In 1933, Peabody General Manager Frank Schutt and his duck-hunting friends decided to play a prank on hotel guests by placing live decoy ducks in the fountain of the hotel’s Grand Lobby. The reaction from hotel visitors was astoundingly positive and soon after, five North American Mallards were introduced to the continuing delight of the hotel’s guests. Later, the hotel bellman, a former circus animal trainer named Edward Pembroke offered to usher the ducks to the fountain each day eventually training them to descend the elevator and march to the fountain at precisely 11:00 am and return to their Royal Duck Palace on the roof each evening. Today, the “Peabody Duck March” is a daily event that’s a great way to kick off your Memphis experience in fine feathered style.
Lansky Brothers, located in The Peabody Memphis is a clothier where styles and fashion are truly one of a kind. The store offers culture bending threads and accessories that are at once, cutting edge hip and retro-rock vintage, all presided over by Mr. Hal Lansky, the son of Bernard Lansky, who was a member of Elvis’ inner circle and who introduced and shaped the King’s wardrobe from his teens through his adult life.
“Shake the hand of the man that shook the hand of the man that shook the world,” Hal shares with his signature mix of historic reverence and rock ‘n roll panache, Bernard Lansky “Put Elvis into his first suit…and his last.”
What more can we say; check out Lansky’s to see why Robert Plant, Tom Petty, and many other rock luminaries are frequent clientele, and to kick start your wardrobe with a splash of rock ‘n roll Memphis Style.
Social Crossroads at the Corner of Beale street and Highway 61
Memphis is a delicious stew; infused and flavored with the absolute earliest influences of rock ‘n roll, Delta blues and soul music; served up with the emergence of Elvis Presley and Graceland, the Civil Rights movement, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and all that came after. It’s a place where an enormous amount of seminal elements that have shaped our collective history are laid open like a big colorful picture book for all to experience, learn from, and enjoy.
In fact, there is so much history, so many culturally seismic icons available in Memphis, that it is a little bewildering to grasp. In order to put it all in perspective, we suggest you make your first stop at the incredibly appointed, world-renowned (Smithsonian developed), Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum. The museum tells the story of the musical pioneers who, through the sheer power of music, overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the music that changed the world and affected the way we think, walk, the way we talk, the way we comb our hair and the way we dress – not only in Memphis or the nation but in the entire world.
Located at 191 Beale Street and the corner of legendary Highway 61, (also known as “Blues Highway”) the museum offers a comprehensive Memphis musical experience that starts with stark depictions of the rural sharecroppers of the 1930s, wanders through the global explosion of Sun, Stax and Hi Records and illustrates and underscores Memphis’ undeniable influence on the world.
Take the museum’s digital audio tour to experience up to 300 minutes of information, including over 100 songs, and set your own pace through seven galleries featuring 3 audio visual programs, historic instruments, costumes and musical treasures.
The museum and gift shop are open daily, 10am – 7pm. Admission is $11 for adults, $8 for youth age 5-17. Shelby County, Tennessee residents are offered free admission any Tuesday afternoon between the hours of 2 and 7 p.m. by simply showing a photo ID with proof of residence.
Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
191 Beale street, suite 100
Memphis, TN 38103
Rock Incubator: The Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll
Sun Studio is a working recording studio opened by rock pioneer Sam Phillips on January 3, 1950. Sun is the home to the very first rock-and-roll single, Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88” recorded in 1951 (with song composer Ike Turner on keyboards.)
This relatively obscure fact entitles Sun Studio the undisputed designation as the “birthplace of rock & roll.” Along with blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, Rock-and-roll, country, and rockabilly pioneers who called Sun their recording home include Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and too many more to mention.
In 1987, the original building housing the Sun Records label and Memphis Recording Service was reopened as “Sun Studio,” and still serves as a working recording studio where artists, such as U2, Def Leppard, Bonnie Raitt, Ringo Starr, John Mellencamp, Chris Isaak, and countless others have recorded.
Million Dollar Quartet
On December 4, 1956, an impromptu jam session among Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash took place at Sun Studio.
To see the birthplace of rock ‘n roll, don’t miss Sun Studio on your day in Memphis…Rock on.
706 Union Ave.
Memphis, TN 38103
Racial Harmony Sparks Global Change in Soulsville, USA
A 10-minute drive from downtown Memphis is the magnificent Stax Museum, located in Soulsville, USA at the corner of McLemore Avenue and College Street. What began as a neighborhood record store in a dilapidated movie theater, grew to become one of the most important music recording studios in the world. Thanks to the generosity of many anonymous donors, Plough Foundation, The City of Memphis, Shelby County and The US Government, the museum is startlingly beautiful, and a mind boggling array of artifacts, archival documents and historically significant elements to tell the story as if stopped in time with the ability to utilize digital technology in the sweetest possible way. When the modest Capitol Theater in the heart of Soulsville, USA was transformed into Stax Records in 1959, it began launching careers and assembling a massive catalog of smash soul hits by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, the incredible Booker T. & the MG’s, Rufus Thomas and dozens of other artists, whose DNA remain vital touchstones in our collective musical culture. Additionally, Stax also recorded such legends as Big Star, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bill Cosby, Moms Mabley, and the Grammy-winning Richard Pryor.
Today, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located at the original site of Stax Records, pays tribute to all of the artists who recorded there with a dazzling collection of more than 2,000 interactive exhibits, films, ephemera and archival memorabilia. Because it is the only soul music museum in the world, it also spotlights America’s other major soul music pioneers, including the sounds of Muscle Shoals, Motown, Hi, and Atlantic Records, spotlighting the contributions of such soul pioneers as Ike & Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson Five, Ann Peebles, Al Green, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Ray Charles, and many others. Don’t miss it.
926 E. McLemore Ave.
Memphis, TN 38106
The Entertainment HEART of Memphis and the World’s OFFICIAL home of the Blues
Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966, followed by an act of Congress in ‘77 declaring Beale Street the official Home of the Blues – music enthusiasts worldwide arrive in droves to sit back, relax with a cool beer and take in all that is American Music’s history and future. A three block cornucopia of nightclubs, restaurants and retail shops, Beale Street, deep in the heart of Memphis TN, oozes Delta blues, jazz, rock ‘n roll, gospel and even modern alternative music.
Established in the early 1800s as a home to traders and merchants along the Mississippi River, Beale Street provided the perfect stop for street musicians to entertain, solicit and pick the pockets of local business owners, consumers and passers-by. 1890 brought The Orpheum Theatre, known locally as “The South’s Finest Theatre,” and with it came a slow transformation from ruffian street scene, to a favorite gathering spot for world-class entertainment.
A 20-year music celebration on Beale Street from 1920 through 1940 brought backbone to the Blues. Legendary jazz and blues artists such as Albert King, Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King (B.B. is short for Blues Boy) established a new style known as Memphis Blues, cementing a rich history for Memphis as a world leader in music.
Today, if a stroll down Beale Street doesn’t invoke a nostalgic beat in your soul, the celebration of sight, scent and sound will. Decorated with neon and brightly colored lights, Beale Street is a visual circus not to be missed. Stomach thrilling scents waft from local eateries such as Kings Place Café known for their Barbecued Ribs and Cajun specialties, or Miss Polly’s Soul City Café famous for chicken and waffles. But sight and scent are nothing compared to the delicious sounds spilling out of clubs and into your ears.
1985 established hot spot Rum Boogie Café proudly lead the renaissance of Beale Street from a dilapidated eyesore in the 70s, to today’s thriving music mecca. Known for their “superfine rum selection,” Rum Boogie Café displays over 360 guitars signed by music greats from The Black Crowes, to Travis Tritt and Jon Bon Jovi. They even have a guitar signed by the king of rock ‘n roll himself, Elvis! Other favorite local venues not to be missed include B. B. King’s for great live music, and Silky O’Sullivan’s where it’s “like St. Patrick’s Day” all year long. For the young, or just the young at heart, there’s an alternative to the blues at The New Daisy Theatre. Located at the north end of Beale Street, it’s small enough to feel like a club, yet big enough to attract well known alternative artists such as The Raconteurs, The Strokes and Cat Power. Every show at The New Daisy Theatre will keep you partying well passed reason into the early hours of dawn.
If the regular parade of entertainment doesn’t satisfy your insatiable appetite for music, don’t fret! Every May the Beale Street Music Festival attracts music greats such as John Mellencamp, Snoop Dogg and John Legend to name a few.
The festival also acts as the springboard to the Memphis in May month long celebration of festivities and fun. Stroll, shop, eat, drink and most importantly, celebrate the music scene in the heart of Memphis on Beale Street! It’s a journey too good to miss and too delicious to put down!