Thousands of tourists visit Tennessee each year to enjoy great music venues, and Memphis is the birthplace of most of the genres of American Music for the recording and song writing industry. Here you’ll find fascinating stories, museums, and concerts of Rock, Soul, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Country, and Rhythm and Blues, all of which can trace their roots to this “the holy ground of American Music.”
Situated right on the great Mississippi River, Memphis has always been a hub of activity, right in the middle of the United States, so it was natural that in the early years it was a stopping point for people traveling by water and then by rail, so the city grew into the metropolis it is today, and some of the manions of the Victorian era are available for tours on Victorian Row, and you won’t want to miss the lovely Peabody Hotel.
We traveled there in our RV and chose, as we frequently do, to stay at Kampgrounds of America. However, we had trouble finding the Memphis KOA in our Trailer Life Book listings of campgrounds because it is actually in Marion, Arkansas, just across the Mississippi River, about 20 minutes from Memphis famous center of music: Beale Street. The kampground here is small by comparison to other KOA’s we have stayed in, so make your reservations well in advance or call ahead the day of arrival to be sure they have a spot for you. The sites are all level and the Kampground has all the KOA amenities including a clean playground for your children and another one for your dogs and a lovely swimming pool.
If you can plan to stay in Memphis for a week you will find plenty to do, and they have many festivals throughout the year. If you have a limited time you can hit the high points by taking one or more of the Blues City Tours. Whether you are on your own or on a tour you can’t miss the famous Beale Street, the center of America’s music history and concerts of all kinds, day and night. It is here that many of music’s legendary recording and performing artists got their start: Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, B.B. King, Jerry Lee lewis, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Stevie Ray Vauhah, ZZ Top, U2, R.E.M. and many more. You can tour the early 1900’s home of W.C. Handy and learn all about the humble beginnings of the Father of the Blues. (Located on Beale and 4th Street). You already know his music including “Memphis Blues,” “St. Luis Blues” and “Beale Street Blues.”
Memphis preserves the history of slavery in this area, and your visit to the Underground Slave Hideaway at the Underground Railroad Museum is an interesting and educational must for adults and children alike. It is in the historic ante-bellum Burkle Estate at 826 North Second Street. Known as Slave Haven and is open Monday through Saturday 10 – 5. You’ll also want to tour the Cotton Museum to learn how this plant changed the world and you’ll learn of the secret world behind it which defined Southern culture and was the driving force of plantations and slavery and then the Civil War. The cotton Museum and the Memphis cotton Exchange are at 65 Union Avenue in Memphis and are open 10 – 5 Mon- Sat. and noon to 5 on Sunday. This museum is a MUST to understand Southern history. It was the slave’s work songs that were developed into much of the early music genres of Memphis singers. You can also visit the historic Stax Museum and Sun recording Studios, and you can tour the Gibson Guitar factory.
To get the full history and understanding of the time line of American Music centered in Memphis, you MUST visit the Rock ‘n Soul Museum at Third and Beale Street, open daily 10 – 7. It is a great place to start your Memphis music experience in order to see the explanatory displays of the greats and how they affected music in their often rebellious determination to sing their hearts story, and it changed the face of music forever. The displays here are brilliantly planned to give a thorough and fascinating history of how it all happened, and the video is so interesting, showing the different historical performers in their own venues here in Memphis. You will come away so inspired. Who knows? You may become a hit song writer or crooner yourself!
And, of course, no visitor to Memphis can miss Graceland, the famous home of Elvis Presley, who was not the first to sing Rock ‘n Roll, but he popularized it with rebellious youth of the fifties and sixties while shocking their parents, and his sexy performances broke through all barriers to make him one of the most successful performers in the history of music.
You’ll learn all about it and see the gauche but fascinating decor he selected for the mansion he bought for his parents and himself. 2010 is the year marking the 75th anniversary of his birth, so the new displays of his costumes and jewelry await you.
We recommend arriving early because the lines can be long, although they move fast with the aid of perfectly timed mini-buses. You’ll hear his music playing and see his film and TV clips through out the day and end your tour at his grave. Be sure to have a trip down memory lane by eating old fashioned burgers in the on-site cafe as you play the juke box with your favorite Elvis hits.
We loved our visit to Memphis and already want to go back!