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Memphis: Why the Home of the King Won't Have You Singin' the Blues

Updated on July 7, 2017

Background

Aerial view of downtown Memphis
Aerial view of downtown Memphis | Source

The Southern United States has long been portrayed in modern culture, with film, literature and music all having influenced the perception of the area.

Mark Twain's classic, 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' shone a light on the deep-seated racism in Mississippi in the 1800's.

While the 1972 film 'Deliverance', set in Georgia, did little to help the backwards, red-neck image, neither did the phrase “hillbilly music”, (now known as Country music) which was a term for fiddle and string bands originating from the Appalachian region during the 1920's.

Billy Redden as "Lonnie", the creepy banjo playing kid from "Deliverance"
Billy Redden as "Lonnie", the creepy banjo playing kid from "Deliverance" | Source

As a tourist from the UK, it can be difficult to separate these kinds of thoughts when visiting places such as Tennessee, even though some of the stereotypes are, of course, tongue in cheek.

But what I found during my stay in Memphis, was a warmth, positivity and vitality that I haven't experienced before or since.

The first thing that takes your breath away when visiting Memphis is the weather; it literally took my breath away for a few seconds when I stepped out of the airport. The 40°C temperature combined with 95% humidity took some getting used to.

Baseball and Beale

After settling into the budget Super 8 Motel, it was time to start exploring and that great American past time, Baseball, was top of the list.

It was a pleasant evening's entertainment at Autozone Park as the Red Birds took on the Oklahoma City Red Hawks. The cheapest tickets were $7.00 (£4.50), and due to some empty seats, you can choose to sit wherever you please.

The Red Birds won, but talking to the locals and the post-match fireworks display were the real highlights of my first baseball match.

AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds
AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds | Source

After enjoying the refreshments, it was on to the world famous Beale Street, an explosion of music and colour that acts as a magnet to all who visit Memphis.

Simply known as 'Beale' by the locals, the boom of the 1920's saw it become a Mecca for black blues musicians from all over the south as well as gambling, partying and drinking, and those traditions are still very much alive today.

At night, Police cordon off both ends of the street and ask for I.D and a quick “pat down” before being allowed to enter, this 5-10 minutes is worth the inconvenience and saves you having to prove your age at every bar you visit.

The first port of call was Club 152, which hosted live music and food is served on the ground floor with more of a nightclub atmosphere on the first floor.

Beale Street is a street in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, which runs from the Mississippi River to East Street, a distance of approximately 1.8 miles
Beale Street is a street in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, which runs from the Mississippi River to East Street, a distance of approximately 1.8 miles | Source

I then headed to Silky O’Sullivan’s Piano Bar; live music was still a huge part of the iconic street, who's walk of fame includes Elvis, B.B King, Johnny Cash and Muddy Waters.

Silky's also turns into a very relaxed café during the day, a big patio and more live music greets customers, as well as classic southern food such as BBQ Ribs, Catfish and Po' Boys, which are huge sandwiches that overflow with fillings.


The prices for a main course ranged from $7.50 to $25.00 (£4.80-£16.00), the portions were huge, and a service charge is expected at ALL restaurants, bars and cafés unless it's included in the bill.

Silky's is an Irish pub on Beale in a 100 year old building with a piano, patio, and BBQ menu
Silky's is an Irish pub on Beale in a 100 year old building with a piano, patio, and BBQ menu | Source

Musical Heritage

The Memphis Museum of Rock 'n Soul gives an excellent insight into the early musical pioneers who visited Memphis and made history.

For any fan of rock 'n roll, soul and blues this is another must visit venue, the museum charts the early years of music that originated from poverty and social injustice to become the inspiration for some of music's biggest artists.

Located downtown, just a ten-minute walk from Beale Street, entry for adults is $11.00 (£7.05), $8.00 (£5.00) for 5-17 year old's.

Group rates also available and a shuttle bus also runs to Sun Studios, where Elvis recorded hits such as Blue Moon and That's Alright.

From Elvis in Memphis is the fifteenth studio album by American rock and roll singer Elvis Presley, released on RCA Records
From Elvis in Memphis is the fifteenth studio album by American rock and roll singer Elvis Presley, released on RCA Records | Source
The original lyrics to Elvis' 1956 hit, Heartbreak Hotel
The original lyrics to Elvis' 1956 hit, Heartbreak Hotel | Source

Dr King and Civil Rights

The next stop on my trip to Memphis was a poignant one, The National Civil Rights Museum, a ten-minute walk from Beale Street.

The Museum is the renovated remains of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated outside of his room on 4th April 1968.

Visual and audio exhibitions include the story of slavery, Rosa Parks, voting rights and the last hours of Dr King, including an exact remake of room 306, where he stayed during his final night.

The museum is one of a number of tourist locations that are accessible by shuttle bus from most hotels; admissions are $15.00 for adults (£9.00) and $12.00 (£7.70) for children.

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The National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of museums and historic buildings in Memphis, Tennessee; its exhibits trace the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present
The National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of museums and historic buildings in Memphis, Tennessee; its exhibits trace the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present
The National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of museums and historic buildings in Memphis, Tennessee; its exhibits trace the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present | Source

Graceland

Another popular attraction in Memphis is Graceland, the home of the 'The King', and also Elvis' final resting place, 13.8-acre grounds are listed as a National Historic Landmark and is visited by an estimated 600,000 people a year.

By now, my funds were running low, and a trip to Graceland was looking less likely, and at an eye-watering $77.00 ($50.00) for an adult ticket, my site seeing was over.

I was at least fortunate enough to drive down Elvis Presley Boulevard and see Graceland from street level.

The food, the sounds and the history of Memphis, Tennessee is something that stays with long after you leave the airport and is a must for fans of classic American music, food, political and social landmarks.

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    • DerbyDevil1974 profile image

      Holley Rich Coleman 6 weeks ago from New Orleans, LA

      Sun Studio is my favorite place to visit in Memphis and of course Graceland!

    • Kara Skinner profile image

      Kara Skinner 7 weeks ago from Maine

      Memphis hadn't reached my list of places to see, but after this article, I think I might add it to the list.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 7 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Wow! You brought Memphis to life in your article. Thanks for the tour. Good job!

    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 7 weeks ago from Louisiana, USA

      I have always wanted to visit Memphis, especially to indulge in some delicious BBQ and tour the historic sites of the cities. Thank you for sharing this article, now it makes me want to visit even more now. Great work.