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