Beale Street at Night

Memphis Music Pioneers

Legendary Music Studios & Attractions

Visit the places that helped birth the world-famous Memphis sound.

Memphis Music Legends

When people talk about Memphis music, the conversation often boils down to one question: How could a city at the far west corner of Tennessee amass so many historically important artists from a variety of genres?

To the people of Memphis, the answer is obvious. What connects these legends is more than geography, more than the South. It’s their spirit that made them legends. Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes and Al Green, three of the biggest stars to ever hail from Memphis, were all mavericks. They had vision. And they were all determined to do something that others hadn’t done before.

The first words Elvis uttered when he walked into Sun Studio in 1954 were “I don’t sound like nobody.” That swagger quickly launched the young kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, into the national spotlight and a career that changed popular culture forever. Years later, The King’s influence can still be felt around the world, including in Memphis.

Sun Studio was also the location of Million Dollar Quartet, the smash-hit Broadway musical inspired by the famed jam session that brought Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis together for the first and only time.

Tips:

If you're interested in more about the birthplace of rock 'n' roll, make sure to visit Graceland and Elvis Presley's Memphis where you will get a glimpse into the life of Elvis: what influenced him and how he influenced the world. Next stop would be Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum to dig even further into Memphis artists. 

Beale Street by Troy Glasgow
Memphis Musician by The Commercial Appeal
Cooper-Young jam session by Troy Glasgow
Sun Studio by Dan Ball

Soul Men at Stax

While Elvis was making history on Union Avenue, a few talented musicians, songwriters and singers were doing their own thing on McLemore Avenue. The legend of Stax Records often begins and ends with Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MGs. Some even realize that the film Shaft is part of Stax lore. But what most people don’t know is that a majority of songs the label produced were written almost entirely by two people: Isaac Hayes and his partner, David Porter. Before either became solo stars, this duo wrote songs like “Soul Man” and “Hold On I’m Comin’” that helped Stax develop a sound that was authentic to Memphis. The history of Stax, as well as Isaac, David, Otis and others, can be seen, read about and heard at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

The Memphis sound, though, wasn’t limited to Elvis or the artists at Stax. Just a few blocks away, Al Green was making his own mark at Hi Records. With the guidance of the late legendary producer Willie Mitchell, Al Green went on to record some of soul music’s biggest hits, including “Let’s Stay Together," “I’m Still In Love With You” and “Take Me To The River.” Today, Al Green continues to record new music, tour the world and, on almost every Sunday, preach the good word at his Full Gospel Tabernacle church in South Memphis.

Tips: 

While you are in the area of Stax, make sure to tour the National Civil Rights Museum which is sure to feed your soul. Make arrangements to take Backbeat Tour's Mojo tour where you will hear all about Memphis music and historical landmarks. Slide into Earnestine & Hazel's and get their world-famous soul burger. You won't regret it. 

Stax Museum of American Soul Music / Dan Ball
Soul Food / Holly Whitfield
National Civil Rights Museum / David Meany
Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum / Justin Fox Burks

Home of the Blues

In the early 1900s, Beale Street was the stage for many music greats. In 1909, W.C. Handy made his way to Memphis where he wrote "Beale Street Blues" in 1916. Undeniably, Beale Street is the home of the blues. Clubs dotted the street and gave blues and jazz artists a chance to hone their crafts leading them to fame: B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Rufus Thomas and Louis Armstrong - just to name a few. When you walk the cobblestones on Beale, you hear the sounds of the present and the past wafting in the air and you just know you're on hallowed ground. 

Tips:
Hear authentic blues at B.B. King's Blues Club every night of the week. If you're interested in seeing the home of W.C. Handy, head east on Beale. You can't miss it. Explore memorabilia of some of the world's finest blues musicians at The Blues Hall of Fame. And to round out the night, take the juke joint tour in a 1955 Cadillac with American Dream Safari