Find the Blues in Memphis
The long history and culture of blues music in Memphis is alive and well! Experience old and new bands belting out fantastic blues music. Take a journey and explore these tiny juke joints, area festivals and historic landmarks.
International Blues Challenge
Each January, the world’s largest gathering of blues acts fill the clubs on Beale to compete for cash, prizes and industry recognition. The global blues extravaganza brings wailers and stompers from all over this earth to revel in the music that W.C. Handy codified here. In 2015, over 250 acts played in 20-plus venues, with a grand finale at the Orpheum Theatre. The long list of blues artists that have competed in the International Blues Challenge include Tommy Castro, Eden Brent, Matt Anderson, Watermelon Slim and more.
Blues Hall of Fame
Since 1980, The Blues Foundation has inducted members into a Blues Hall of Fame, though no physical hall existed. That all changed in 2015. A retrofit of the Foundation’s South Main offices (near the National Civil Rights Museum) now pays tribute to great blues men and women and help educate thousands on the history of blues music. Through interactive artifacts, recordings and exhibits, the new Blues Hall of Fame is a place for serious blues fans and casual visitors to celebrate this special genre of music.
Beale Street began as the recreational and social center of the city, where folks could unite and listen to music. Over the years, the likes of Muddy Waters, Memphis Minnie and B.B. King made their mark on the street. In 1977 Beale Street was officially declared the Home of the Blues by an act of Congress.
Today, you’ll find music spilling out of the clubs and restaurants on this neon-filled street. Get your mojo rising by poking your head into Rum Boogie Cafe, Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall or B.B. King’s Blues Club. Beale Street is serious about its music, and jam sessions tend to go deep into the night. For a good time, grab a drink, soak up the sounds and throw a few bucks in the tip jar for the Beale Street Flippers.
W.C. Handy Home and Museum
The W.C. Handy Home and Museum (located at 352 Beale Street) features photos, memorabilia and artifacts and even the desk at which W.C. Handy wrote many of his most famous songs, like "The Memphis Blues" (the first blues ballad in history), "St. Louis Blues," and "Beale Street Blues.” W.C. Handy’s turn-of-the-century home is open Tuesday - Saturday in the summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults. Check their website for winter hours and for more information.
American Dream Safari
In the back of a 1955 Cadillac, Tad Pierson takes blues fans on a journey like they've never experienced. His American Dream Safari company offers themed rides, including Juke Joint Full of Blues, a Delta Day Trip and a soul-soothing Road Therapy Tour. Tad has done personal tours for some very influential folks as the autographed door panels indicate, and his rich historic and cultural knowledge is as vast as the Mississippi River is long.
Beale Street Music Festival
There’s no shortage of musical history on Beale Street. Its namesake festival brings to life the area’s bluesy tradition mixed with America’s biggest performers playing contemporary rock, soul and hip hop. The music festival has played host to notable talents such as The Black Keys, Bob Dylan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Legend, Foo Fighters and many more. This 3-day party is each May and takes places in Tom Lee Park at the foot of Beale along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Watch the Beale Street Music Festival official site for future lineup and ticket announcements.
Bridging the Blues
If part of your blues journey takes you along historic Highway 61, then you’ll want to check out the event calendar at Bridging the Blues. On their site, you’ll find regional festivals (like the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas), juke joints and blues museums in the Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi region.
Memphis Music & Heritage Festival
The Center for Southern Folklore puts on the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival every Labor Day weekend. This free event (for over 30 years now) is five stages of musicians, dancers, poets, artists and workshops celebrating the culture and rhythms of the Delta region. Find out more about this contemporary twist on Memphis’ musical heritage at southernfolklore.com.
Saint Blues Guitar Workshop
Saint Blues Guitars was born in the heart of the Delta, where country tangled with the blues and spawned rock ’n’ roll. Today, every St. Blues Guitar is made right here in Memphis. Salivate over their Bluesmaster or schedule a tour and see it crafted up close and personal. The St. Blues showroom is located just a block away from famous Sun Studio.
Every year, the Blues Awards bring together performers, industry reps and fans from all over the world to celebrate the best in blues recordings and performances. The Blues Awards are universally recognized as the highest honor given to a blues artists or group. In 2014, legends like Lurrie Bell, Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton and guitarist Buddy Guy all walked away with awards.
Meeting and event planners love Heritage Tours. They can offer your group a customized sightseeing tour of Memphis’ rich cultural landmarks and unique history that is often forgotten or rarely discussed. You’ll be cut and dry after seeing more than 30 sites and points of interest.