To many music fans, Memphis, Tennessee, means one thing: the world's greatest Elvis shrine, Graceland. But chances are your kids know more about tacky Elvis impersonators than they do about the King himself. So when you come to Memphis, show them the whole story -- the amazing music heritage that first drew the shy teenager from Tupelo, Mississippi, to this Tennessee river city. Begin on Beale Street, the nerve center of the South's most vital post–Civil War black community. W. C. Handy brought the blues sound up Hwy. 61 from Mississippi at the turn of the century and it caught fire in the clubs of Beale Street; later, such legends as B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf added their voices. Stroll along the street, read the historic markers, and check out who's playing at the nightclubs between Second and Fourth streets. Visit the W. C. Handy House Museum, 352 Beale St. (tel. 901/527-3427), and the Smithsonian's Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, 191 Beale St. (tel. 901/205-2533; www.memphisrocknsoul.org), with photos, recordings, and artifacts, from a satin Elvis Presley suit to Ike Turner's piano.
In 1950, in a tiny brick corner storefront, recording engineer Sam Phillips opened Sun Studio, 706 Union Ave. (tel. 800/441-6249 or 901/521-0664; www.sunstudio.com), where then-unknowns Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley took the blues sound, mixed it with country and bluegrass, and came up with a new sound: rock 'n' roll. You can tour Sun Studio's surprisingly Spartan setup; records are still made here by such current artists as U2 and Bonnie Raitt.
Yet another sound was born in Memphis in 1959, when Stax Records began recording such soul-music greats as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McLemore Ave. (tel. 901/942-SOUL [942-7685] or 901/946-2535; www.staxmuseum.com), has such evocative exhibits as a re-created gospel church and the dance floor from the TV show Soul Train.
Now that you've placed Elvis in music history, head out on Elvis Presley Boulevard to Graceland, the colonial-style mansion Elvis bought in the late 1950s for the then-huge price of $100,000. As the King's fame grew, 14-acre Graceland became his refuge, and eventually his retreat from reality. Touring the mansion, you'll get a glimpse of the lavish lifestyle the poor Delta boy chose once he hit the big time: carpeted wall-to-wall in white, with gold accents and satin drapes everywhere. Walls covered with gold record plaques, mannequin after mannequin sporting Elvis's stage outfits -- it's an assault on the senses. Don't miss the flower-laden memorial garden where Elvis is buried alongside his parents. It completes the whole arc of Elvis's career, from raw young rockabilly to hip-swiveling teen heartthrob to sequin-jumpsuited mega-star. As you drive away, play a mix-tape of Elvis hits from "That's All Right, Mama" and "All Shook Up" to "Love Me Tender" and "Suspicious Minds." Now the kids know who Elvis is.
Nearest Airport: Memphis International.
Where to Stay: $$ Homewood Suites by Hilton, 5811 Poplar Ave. (tel. 800/CALL-HOME [225-5466] or 901/763-0500; www.homewoodsuites.com). $$$ The Peabody Memphis, 149 Union Ave. (tel. 800/PEABODY [732-2639] or 901/529-4000; www.peabodymemphis.com).