Featured Memphis Music Stories
Art and culture are two of the important pillars that make up the city of Memphis, and the city is always looking for ways to share its heritage with the community. So, if you’re looking for ways to get out and explore Memphis culture, these are just a handful of examples of the […]
The summer concert series “Soulin’ on the River” continues at The Grove on Mud Island River Park here in Memphis with the Lucky 7 Brass Brand. It’s a chance to get out of the house, enjoy the fantastic summertime weather and kick back while you take in the unique […]
No discussion about American music can be complete without a discussion about Memphis. Memphis is, hands-down, home to much of what we know as modern American music. Soul, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and other genres of music all have their roots in the city. […]
Sometimes the best way to shake off the stress of the average workweek is to go up on stage and sing along to your favorite songs. Karaoke night is unlike any other night. Whether you come with friends or on your own, you can enjoy having a drink and singing the night away. It doesn’t […]
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 […]
There’s no doubt that Memphis is steeped in music history. After all, it’s the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and the home of the blues. There’s been live music played on Beale Street since the 1860s, and if you stroll down the famous street today, you’ll see the […]
Memphis is a great place to call home no matter what, but for aspiring musicians, it’s particularly special. Memphis has become a mecca for musicians for many reasons. We have our share of musical landmarks, as famous artists like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Otis Redding and more have […]
It’s no secret that Memphis has a history of amazing musicians. But did you know the impact Memphian music has on popular music? GRAMMY Award-winning engineer Boo Mitchell talks about his father Willie Mitchell’s continued influence on artists like the Talking Heads, Tina […]
Meet Memphis Musicians
Rev. Sekou is a man of many talents and someone who's always looking to find ways to improve the lives of those around him. In fact, you may have heard some of his most important musical works before without actually knowing he was the musician.
Growing up in the soul capital of the United States, J. Buck fully understands the importance of the musical style. He's also taken his upbringing and the style of music and introduced it into his own brand of soul and funk with a very Memphis twist.
The Rusty Pieces is a local act in Memphis. However, the two actually met each other when Jessi was visiting family in Columbus, Ohio. Now the two are a fan-favorite band in Memphis and are always putting on new, exciting live shows.
Sweet Knives is a band unlike what you're used to in Memphis. It very much is its own style, which is exactly what makes it a must see. So if you're looking for a new wave of music, come discover the sound waves created by Sweet Knives.
Amy LaVere is a popular musician who now hails from Memphis, Tennessee, and is signed through Archer Records out of Memphis. The singer-songwriter is unique in that she plays an upright bass as the lead performer (although she plays a number of instruments during live performances).
Are you looking for something a bit different from the popular country, blues or traditional rock scene in Memphis? If so, all you need to do is know what rock to look under, as there are all kinds of options. This includes indie rock group Hash Redactor.
Musicians from all over the world turn to Memphis as a home base. This is exactly what Eleanor Tallie did when she moved from Israel to the United States and settled down in Memphis. Now she's one of the fastest growing performers in the region.
The Dirty Streets combine soul, blues, rock and funk to create a sound that is truly unique. It's both a throwback to the history of Memphis music and the birth of a brand new style of music you need to hear for yourself.
Marcella Simien may have had all the necessary musical tools during her childhood, but she wanted to discover her musical identity on her own. This has led her to create a unique style of music and art that is all her own.
Marco Pave very much represents the city of Memphis. From putting on concerts to raise money for charity to releasing new tracks, Pave is always looking for a new way to explore his musical gifts.
Nick Black's music is heavily influenced by many of the feel-good songs created by Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars. That becomes instantly obvious when you hear his music, and yet the soul-pop style combo is all his own.
Liz Brasher is everything you would expect to find in a Memphis musician. The melting pot of a performer draws from her background and the many locations she has lived over the years. This helps her create a unique sound.
Memphis native Brandon Lewis found his passion for music at a young age. Starting as a freelance songwriter, he dove hard into his music career. Dynamic, driven, and soulful, his music connects with the listener on an emotional level. Indie music may not be what Memphis is known for, but […]
At the festival, she was performing for a tent of people who didn’t know who she was, and she was just zeroing in on people speaking directly to them. She was witty, she was bawdy, she was frank. – Jewly Hight (NPR)Talibah Safiya is a shape-shifting independent soul artist from […]
Daz Rinko – a Hip-Hop artist from Memphis, TN – is known for his upbeat and positive jams, as well as his genre blending style. With the release of his July 2016 mixtape “LIFTED”, Daz made nothing short of a memorable first impression. “LIFTED” showcased Daz’s southern […]
“Brash yet thoughtful, with sweet guitars and pummeling, yet danceable, Memphis-Style rhythm.” James & The Ultrasounds embodies what it means to “Bring Your Soul” to the city of Memphis. Get Social Facebook Instagram
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Music in Memphis
As the Smithsonian Institution said, "In the quest to identify the roots of rock 'n' roll, all roads lead to Memphis." From B.B. King to Elvis Presley, Memphis has an extraordinarily rich cultural legacy. It remains one of the strongest musical influences in the country today and is an incredible destination for any music lover.
A History of Music in Memphis
Much of America's musical history was born in Memphis: blues, jazz, R&B and eventually rock 'n' roll. These musical traditions influenced each other heavily and developed significant crossover, which is part of what gave Memphis music its unique sound. Throughout the development of Memphis' musical scene, Memphis' music remained a little rougher and soulful than the more polished, streamlined productions of Chicago and New York. This allowed musicians more artistic and emotional freedom when composing and performing.
Above all else, Memphis is often known as "Home of the Blues," laying claim to one of the most successful blues songs of its time: "St Louis Blues." From the 1910s to the 1930s, a distinct, Memphis sound was developed, with a crossover into country blues that later developed. Popular performers included Frank Stokes (believed to be the originator of the Memphis Blues Guitar Style) and Memphis Minnie (a blues vocalist who recorded over 200 songs). Blues has remained popular in Memphis for over a century and has gone through many influential iterations over that time.
During the same period, jazz also had a strong influence in Memphis, with jazz orchestra becoming popular in the 1920s and continuing to interact with the strong blues culture. Blues and jazz would eventually bleed into R&B and lead to the development of funk and soul.
Blues continued to evolve throughout Memphis, influenced by artists, such as B.B. King, Willie Nix and Joe Hill Louis. In 1952, Sam Phillips would start Sun Records, for both blues music and rock 'n' roll. This highly influential record label would eventually record Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters and, of course, Elvis Presley himself. These artists were the originators of early rockabilly, a style that remains popular today. Many of these artists worked with a blend of musical styles that had become popular throughout Tennessee, rather than focusing on a single type of music.
In the 1960s, a new type of R&B had arrived: Memphis Soul. Memphis Soul was distinct from other R&B developments of the time, having a more "funky" sound than the competing productions at Motown. Of course, all of this led naturally into the origins of rock 'n' roll, which had strong segments of punk rock and Southern rock in Tennessee. Throughout, blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll remained close to the African American community but also spread music in an extremely universal way.
In addition to blues, R&B and funk, Tennessee music was heavily influenced by country music and gospel music. This has given much of Memphis' music a distinctly Southern tone and differentiated it from the music that was being produced in other areas. Apart from being an incredible cultural influence, the music of Memphis also crossed traditional social lines and helped to blend communities, neighborhoods and classes. Socially, having similar musical tastes and enjoying similar musical acts, it brought people together.
The most famous artists of Memphis
With as storied a history as Memphis has, it goes without saying that it's had many notable musicians. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of incredible blues, jazz, funk, R&B and rock 'n' roll artists that either originated in or worked primarily in Memphis. Today, many musicians flock to Memphis as a way to learn more about the culture and their trade.
Some of the most famous artists of Memphis included:
- Elvis Presley. Though born in Mississippi, Elvis Presley relocated to Memphis early in his life — when he was just 13. Initially a country music and R&B artist, he began to develop a new, energetic sound: rock'n'roll. Elvis Presley remains a considerable influence, as one of the artists who was able to blend multiple styles of Tennessee music and create a new style of his own. Most notably, Elvis Presley was highly influenced by African American singing and composing and is often thought to have brought this style into the mainstream.
- B. B. King. The renowned blues singer-songwriter and guitarist, B. B. King was instrumental to the development of Memphis blues and the electric blues era. Like Elvis, he was initially born in Mississippi, but his later life took him to Memphis and Chicago. His name is now synonymous with the blues, particularly his guitar style.
- Isaac Hayes. Today he may be best known for his film score for the film Shaft, but Isaac Hayes was much more than that. Isaac Hayes was an expert in Southern soul and one of the major artists behind Stax Records. A well-known humanitarian and the child of a sharecropper, Isaac Hayes spent much of his time completing charitable work with his wealth and fame. He had considerable influence in movies and television series and received a total of nine BMI awards.
- Johnny Cash. Seamlessly moving between blues, folk, rock and roll and gospel music, Johnny Cash was and remains a musical icon. Originally from Kingsland, Arkansas, he came to Memphis as an appliance salesman and began to explore the music scene. He was eventually signed on with Sun in 1955 and the rest was history.
- Furry Lewis. Walter "Furry" Lewis, born in 1893, is one of the earliest country blues stars and a notable figure in Memphis. Popular through the 1920s, Lewis spent much of his time as a traveling musician. He experienced a resurgence as blues garnered renewed interest in the 1960s and eventually opened for acts such as the Rolling Stones.
- Aretha Franklin. It's notable that Aretha began her career as a gospel singer in Tennessee, eventually bringing her skills to Atlantic Records and spreading Tennessee's influence across the country. Aretha Franklin remained true to her gospel and soul roots and eventually was dubbed "The Queen of Soul." There are few musicians who can claim to have an influence as powerful as Aretha Franklin.
These aren't just musicians who originated in Memphis or grew their style in Memphis, but rather musicians who had a distinct hand in creating Memphis' unique flavor. These musicians influenced Memphis and were influenced by Memphis and their legacy remains in the music that is still produced there.
Visiting the musical locations of Memphis
It only makes sense that a place as musical as Memphis would have many incredible historical and musical sites to visit. Here are a few of the places that you want to go the next time you're in town:
- Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Visit the Hall of Fame to learn more about the culture and history behind Memphis music. Not only is a ceremony and concert held in this location every year, but the Hall of Fame includes tributes to a total of 48 musicians and musical groups. This is where you go to learn more about the individuals who have influenced Memphis music and culture.
- Stax Museum of American Soul Music. No producer was as influential on the Tennessee soul community than Stax. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is an immense museum that includes the actual musical instruments used by famous soul musicians, interactive soul music exhibits and information about the most famous soul musicians in Tennessee.
- Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. Celebrating the marriage between rock 'n' roll and Soul, the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum is one of the major destinations for music lovers in the area. It includes not only coverage of the music of Tennessee but the social impact of this music and how it impacted relationships between different races and socioeconomic classes. This is not only a fun and entertaining venue, but it's a meaningful and educational one as well.
- Lafayette's Music Room. Hosting nightly live music and Southern fare, Lafayette's Music Room is the place to go if you want to explore Memphis' current music scene.
- Minglewood Hall. A music concert venue (which also holds events such as boxing matches) Minglewood Hall is a large, renovated event space that often hosts both local and traveling bands.
- Orpheum Theatre. With over 2,000 seats, this expansive theater often hosts large musical acts. A historic location in downtown Memphis, Orpheum Theatre has existed since 1928. In recent years, it's become a part of Memphis culture and even has its own ghost stories.
These are only a few of the dozens of venues offered throughout Memphis. Go into a Memphis night club or event space and you're likely to be able to experience live music with a Memphis heart. Memphis has had an extraordinary amount of historical influence on the musical scene, but it also hasn't stopped growing. Memphis remains the heart of country music, soul music, and rock'n'roll, and it continues to influence artists even today.