There’s no denying it — music defines Memphis. Roam the internet for stories about the nation’s top music cities, and Memphis always seems to make the list. That’s because we’re known as the home of blues, soul, rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll.
And don’t ignore the fact that Memphis stays fresh by being a hub of musical experimentation, producing hybrids such as surf rock with a Memphis twang.
Plus, the Memphis music producer Sam Phillips recorded what is often cited as the first rock ’n’ roll song, “Rocket 88,” at his Sun Records studio when it opened in 1952. Ike Turner wrote the song about a powerful auto, and his band member Jackie Brenston sang it.
Memphis serves up a banquet of musical history and styles. It’s a major part of our tourism appeal as demonstrated at the Memphis Travel website, which tops its “what to do” page with the following iconic music hot spots:
- Graceland, 3765 Elvis Presley Blvd.
- Sun Studio, 706 Union Ave.
- STAX Museum of American Soul Music, 926 East McLemore Ave.
- Memphis Music Hall of Fame, 126 South Second St.
- Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum, 191 Beale St.
- Blues Hall of Fame, 421 South Maine St.
- Beale Street, which has so many music clubs that it has its own app
Impact of Graceland
Memphis Magazine contributor Chris Davis identifies 1982 as the year that forward-thinking entrepreneurs began shaping our city’s music history as a tourist attraction. In a December 2015 article, Davis noted the tourism renaissance as beginning “when Graceland first opened its doors to the public.”
According to Davis’ article, Beale Street had lots of boarded-up buildings the year Graceland opened. Sun Records (eventually renamed Sun Studio), where stars like Elvis Presley, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison recorded, was just a quick flash outside the window on Gray Line Tours in the early 1980s, according to Davis’ article.
STAX Museum of American Soul Music is housed in the old STAX Records studio where stars like Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding (backed by the Bar-Kays), Sam and Dave, and the Staple Singers all recorded.
Nowadays, the city’s musical landmarks hum with visitors. Ted Evanoff of the Commercial Appeal notes that the neon 1950s appeal of Beale Street was Tennessee’s top tourist stop as of 2016 when it attracted six million visitors.
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