If Nashville had built its musical bones on country music, Memphis became a music mecca with the blues on Beale Street in the early 1900s.
Later in the twentieth century, Sam Phillips, Sun Records, and Elvis Presley heralded the era of rock ‘n’ roll, billy rock, and rhythm and blues. Stax Records Celebrated Soul. And now, the town chimes in rhythm and vibrates with the sound.
My exploration of Memphis music began with a pilgrimage to honor the King. Yes, Graceland, this temple of refined taste and excess Elphician.
Elvis bought the mansion in 1957, and it was redecorated several times. Easy to dis-decor. I had to constantly remind myself of the year, and the fact that I, too, had a green carpet. I still do, not just on the ceiling. And the gold harvest fridge and avocado sink in the kitchen is also called back memories.
The living room features antique tiles, mirrors, a fireplace on one wall, white rugs, and white furnishings. The windows are framed by heavy royal blue velvet curtains. Through a wide opening surrounded by a clear-glass and stained-glass peacock, visitors can see a white grand piano in the music room.
A large Italian chandelier hangs above the dining room table with Elvis and Priscilla Noritake “Buckingham” ceramic. Elvis, who attached great importance to family dinners, always sat at the head of the table.
The competition in the most exclusive interior design category is Jungle Room and Pool Room. The jungle room, inspired by Elvis’ visits to Hawaii, is carpeted in green and the floor and ceiling. The pool room resembles a Middle Eastern tent with walls and ceiling covered in 450 yards of draped draped draped fabric.
The outbuildings house more of the Elvis memorabilia. The trophy building presents family history, gifts given to Elvis, personal belongings, photos, and more. This is where you will get a feel for what Elvis was like.
The last stop is the pool area and meditation garden. Here, Elvis, his mother, father and grandmother are buried.
As a journalist, I received a VIP tour, which is a much more comprehensive tour than I had previously. This tour includes the area where Elvis’ father and stepmother live. It now houses a collection of Elvis jewelry and personal items. Obviously, Elvis loved gold – gold jewelry, gold-plated guns, gold-framed sunglasses, even a special gold Social Security card.
We were also allowed into the archive building. The walls are covered with pictures and the vaults with more memorabilia. One of the most interesting things was Elvis’ first mobile phone. Obsessed with after watching James Bond (“From Russia with Love”), Elvis paid between $3,000 and $4,000 for the £18 musical instrument. Another special feature was the opportunity to put on cotton gloves and take a photo with one of the Elvis’ D76 Martin guitars.
After the house tour, my host and I headed to the Memphis Recreational Complex in Elvis Presley. Museums here have showcased everything from Elvis’s collection of cars, his costumes, movies, gold records, and time spent in the army – basically everything Elvis.
I enjoyed his music, but this visit made me appreciate him much more as a person and as a human being. He did not broadcast his sincerity or fame. The only award he accepted in person was being selected as one of the 10 best young men in the country, awarded in 1971 by the Jaycees for his influence on music and culture and his many charitable activities.
My music tour in Memphis was just beginning. Next stop: Sun Recordings.
The Sam Phillips Recording Studio was where young Elvis walked in to set a record for his mom. He then made several records for Sun. The small museum is full of information about Phillips and a whole host of stars who started with that label.
How cool to see the “Million Dollar Portrait” of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis at an impromptu jam session in the same room they were set up in.
The Stax Museum of American Soul is a much more elegant facility, also filled with exhibits about the names everyone knows: Aretha, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Otis Redding, and more. I knew Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper from The Blues Brothers, but I learned more about their relationship with Booker T. and the MGs
One of my favorite exhibits—easy to miss in the midst of all the cheer—was a map of the area around the Stax Museum showing where many of the musical artists live. The amount of talent in this small community was astounding.
In addition to Aretha Franklin, there were names I did not recognize — including Memphis Slim, Reverend William Herbert Brewster and Lucy E. Campbell — inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
Between my trips to Nashville and Memphis, I’ve been learning a lot about American music. But I wasn’t by learning – there were two other museums with more to see and hear.
The Memphis Rock and Soul Museum, in the FedEx Sports and Entertainment Complex, takes the story of rock and soul from the cotton fields to the height of fame. With exhibits created by the Smithsonian Institution, the shows highlight Memphis’ musical history from the 1930s through the 1970s. The digital audio tour guide provides lots of additional information and more than 100 pieces of music.
My last stop was the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, just a short walk away. Located between the Hard Rock Café and Lansky’s legendary attire, the Hall of Fame pays homage to nearly 100 notable musicians who have been linked to Memphis.
Go from A to Z – Aretha to ZZ Top – to learn about musicians of all genres, including opera star Marguerite Piazza. Artifacts range from outrageous clothing to ruined piano, but my favorite is two-thirds of one of Jerry Lee Lewis’s cans.
End your day with a stroll down Beale Street, where it all began. Street music streams from multiple venues. The beat of the bass and the beat of the drums are the beating heart of the city.