Memphis spawned several of the most important musical forms of the 20th century, yet Nashville stole the Tennessee limelight with its country music. Ask the average American what makes Memphis special, and he or she might be able to tell you that this is the city of Graceland, Elvis Presley's mansion.
What they're less likely to know is that Memphis is also the birthplace of the blues, rock 'n' roll, and soul music. Memphis is where W. C. Handy put down on paper the first written blues music, where The King made his first recording, and where Otis Redding and Al Green expressed the music in their souls.
Many fans of American music (and they come from all over the world) know Memphis. Walking down Beale Street today, sitting in the Sun Studio Cafe, or waiting to pass through the wrought-iron gates of Graceland, you're almost as likely to hear French, German, and Japanese as you are to hear English. British, Irish, and Scottish accents are all common in a city known throughout the world as the birthplace of the most important musical styles of the 20th century. For these people, a trip to Memphis is a pilgrimage. The Irish rock band U2 came here to pay homage and wound up infusing their music with Americana on the record and movie U2: Rattle and Hum. Lead singer Bono, when interviewed for the city's new Soulsville museum, called the city's musical heritage "extraordinary."
Pilgrims come to Memphis not only because Graceland, the second most-visited home in America (after the White House), is here, but they also come because Beale Street was once home to Handy -- and later, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and others -- who merged the gospel singing and cotton-field work songs of the Mississippi Delta into a music called the blues. They come because Sun Studio's owner, Sam Phillips, in the early 1950s began recording several young musicians who experimented with fusing the sounds of "hillbilly" (country) music and the blues into an entirely new sound. This uniquely American sound, first known as rockabilly, would quickly become known as rock 'n' roll, the music that has written the soundtrack for the baby-boom generation.
For information on Memphis, contact the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, 47 Union Ave., Memphis, TN 38103 (tel. 800/8-MEMPHIS [863-6744] or 901/543-5300). You can also get information online at www.memphistravel.com and the following websites:
- The Memphis Flyer is Memphis's main arts and entertainment weekly: www.memphisflyer.com.
- The Commercial Appeal is Memphis's morning daily newspaper: www.commercialappeal.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.