To blues fans, Beale Street is the most important street in America. The musical form known as the blues -- with roots that stretch back to the African musical heritage of slaves brought to the United States -- was born here. W. C. Handy was performing on Beale Street when he penned "Memphis Blues," the first published blues song. Shortly after the Civil War, Beale Street became one of the most important streets in the South for African Americans. Many of the most famous musicians in the blues world got their starts here; besides Handy, other greats include B. B. King, Furry Lewis, Alberta Hunter, Rufus Thomas, and Isaac Hayes.

And the blues continues to thrive here. Today, though parts of downtown Memphis has been abandoned in favor of suburban sprawl, Beale Street continues to draw fans of blues and popular music, and nightclubs line the blocks between Second and Fourth streets. The Orpheum Theatre, once a vaudeville palace, is now the performance hall for Broadway road shows, and the New Daisy Theatre features performances by up-and-coming bands and once-famous performers. Historic markers up and down the street relate the area's colorful past, and two statues commemorate the city's two most important musicians: W. C. Handy and Elvis Presley. In addition to the many clubs featuring nightly live music (including B. B. King's Blues Club and the Hard Rock Cafe), there's also a small often-overlooked museum, the W. C. Handy House -- and the museumlike A. Schwab Dry Goods Store. For an update of events, check out Allow a full afternoon to browse the shops and restaurants, or make a night of it if you're into bar-hopping and live music.