Blues singer in Memphis

Memphis: Where Music Legends Made History

From the sultry sound of soul music to the rebellious rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll, Memphis inspired a unique sound that still lives in its juke joints, night clubs, bars and streets today.  Learn more about Memphis' music legends and find out where you can trace their roots in town to more deeply understand their impact on the world. 

Al Green

Al Green first moved to Memphis in the late 1960s to record with Willie Mitchell and Hi Records. “Love and Happiness,” “Call Me” and “Let’s Stay Together,” some of Green’s biggest hits, remain among the most iconic songs in all of soul music. After becoming one of the most influential soul artists ever, Green opened Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, where he still serves as a reverend. Catch a sermon at Green’s church and be sure to swing by the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum to see one of his stage jackets, gospel robes and his bible. 

Attraction: Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame),  Museum of American Soul Music, Backbeat Tours, Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, American Dream Safari, Royal Studios

Ann Peebles

This influential soul singer is known for her 1970s hits “I Can’t Stand the Rain” and I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.” The Memphis Music Hall of Fame member was Hi Records' most successful female recording artist. While touring the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, look for her two-piece beaded dress and two-piece leopard print dress. 

Attractions: Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, American Dream Safari

B.B. Kings Shining Sign / Andrea Zucker
Walk down B.B. King Blvd. on your way to dinner and a show at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale–and be sure to stop by Memphis Music Hall of Fame to see an autographed “Lucille,” King’s famed Gibson guitar.

B.B. KING  

King is not only one of Memphis’ biggest musicians, but he is renowned world-wide as one of the greatest blues musicians ever to perform. King burst onto the Memphis blues scene in the late 1940s when he played on World Famous Beale Street with other famed blues musicians. King’s imprint on Memphis is very evident today through museum displays, a night club and even a city street named in his honor. 
 
Attractions: Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, B.B. King’s Blues Club, American Dream Safari, Backbeat Tours, The Orpheum Theatre (Gold Star), B.B. King Blvd.

BIG STAR

Big Star was Memphis’ biggest “garage rock” band of the 1970s.  The group is considered as a major influencer for bands of later generations. The group was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame where you can see drummer Jody Stephens' boots, as well as the band’s Christmas poster and neon sign. Stephens is the only surviving member of the original Big Star lineup. You can find him at Ardent Studios, where he acts as studio manager, or playing with his band Those Pretty Wrongs.

Attractions:  Stax Museum of American Soul Music  (a small display including a publicity poster and press kit), Memphis Music Hall of FameMemphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Beale Street (Brass Note Hall of Fame), Ardent Studios

BOBBY “BLUE” BLAND

Along with B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland could be called one of Memphis' greatest blues musicians. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, this blues legend was known for his individuality and unique sound in the genre. Look for Bland’s performance stool and suit, as well as his captain’s hat, suit and boots at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. 

Attractions: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Backbeat Tours, American Dream Safari, Bobby "Blue" Bland Statue (Corner of S. Main Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Ave.)

Memphis Music Hall of Fame / David Meany
Rock 'n' Soul Museum / Alex Shansky
Bobby "Blue" Bland Statue / Craig Thompson
W.C. Handy Statue / Dustin Williams

BOOKER T. and THE MGS

From Otis Redding to Albert King,  Booker T. and the MGs have had a hand in some of the biggest hits to ever come out of Memphis as the studio band for Stax Records. The group and its individual members have been recognized world-wide as one of the most influential groups of the 1960s and 70s, having been inducted into the The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. Booker T. Jones still tours today, often scheduling shows in Memphis! 

Attractions: The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, Stax Museum of American Soul MusicBackbeat Tours, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul MuseumMemphis Music Hall of FameBeale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame)

CARL PERKINS

One of the most popular singers-songwriters in music history, Carl Perkins influenced a generation of musicians. World-renowned artists, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and The Beatles, recorded covers of Perkins’ hits. “The King of Rockabilly” helped change music forever with his recordings at Sun Records. Swing by the Memphis Music Hall of Fame to see Perkins’ Three Alarm Studio reserved parking sign and Gibson guitar. 

Attractions: Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Sun Studio, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul MuseumBeale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame)

CARLA THOMAS

The daughter of Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas was Stax Records’ most popular female artist. Her biggest hits include “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)” and “B-A-B-Y”—the latter of which was recently used as the de facto theme to the 2017 movie Baby Driver. You’ll find plenty of memorabilia on Thomas at local museums, but be sure to spot the safety copy of recording sessions with Otis Redding for their album “King & Queen” at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Occasionally, you can still catch Thomas performing around town. 

Attractions: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul MuseumBeale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame)

DAVID PORTER

As studio composer for Stax Records, David Porter—along with writing partner, Isaac Hayes—is responsible for helping create some of the most famous songs in all of Memphis music. Rolling Stone listed him as one of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time . He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. Today, Porter acts as founder and president of The Consortium MMT, an organization striving to promote and develop music talent in the Memphis community. 

Attractions: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Music Hall of FameBeale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame)

Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum / Andrea Zucker
A visit to Graceland includes a tour of Elvis Presley’s mansion and an immersive experience through Elvis Presley’s Memphis – a 200,000-square-foot complex celebrating his life and legacy with exhibits, two museums and restaurants.

ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis Presley, “The King of Rock and Roll,” is known for popularizing the rock and roll genre, with his songs, iconic style and legend still prominent today. Memphis was the "Home of the Blues," but with Presley's help the city quickly added the moniker of the "Birthplace of Rock and Roll." Whether you snap a photo with the microphone Elvis recorded with at Sun Studio or you walk through the King’s extravagant car collection at the Presley Motors Automobile Museum, fans of “The King” will see the imprint Presley left on the Memphis. 

Attractions: Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Sun Studio, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Backbeat Tours, Elvis Presley Blvd., Elvis Presley Statue (on Beale), The Arcade Restaurant (one of Presley's favorite local spots; be sure to ask for the Elvis booth)

ISAAC HAYES

Whether it was songwriting, singing or producing, Hayes had a hand in some of the most influential soul songs recorded, including hits from Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and his own solo recordings. The multi-Grammy Award-winning artist helped shape Stax Records into the icon it is known as today and will forever be immortalized in the sound he helped create.  Fans have to check out Hayes’ iconic gold-plated Cadillac at Stax Museum of American Soul Music and his mink coat and cape at the Memphis Rock ‘n' Soul Museum. 

Attractions: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’  Soul Museum, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), The Orpheum Theatre (Gold Star), The Isaac Hayes Memorial Highway (on I-40 from Sam Cooper Blvd. to the Fayette County Line)

JERRY LEE LEWIS

With hits such as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Lewis became one of the forerunners of rock 'n' roll.  The Killer, as he was nicknamed, got his start at Sun Records here in Memphis and was a member of the Million Dollar Quartet, along with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Go see two-thirds of his 1983 Cadillac El Ballero at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. You’ll find the other one-third at Jerry Lee Lewis’ Honky Tonk and Cafe.  

Attractions: Sun Studio, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Jerry Lee Lewis Honky Tonk and Cafe, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Hernando's Hide-A-Way (where Lee frequently performed), The Lewis Ranch (Nesbit, MS)

Johnny Cash Statue Unveiling / Alex Shansky
Recording Studio at Sun Studio / Dan Ball
Exterior of Graceland Mansion / Andrea Zucker
Isaac Hayes' Cadillac at Stax / Raphael Tenschert

JOHNNY CASH

Known for his unique sound that blended rock 'n' roll and country music with gospel and the blues, Cash remains one of the best-selling artists of all time. Like Lewis and Presley, “The Man in Black” got his big break recording for Sam Phillips at Sun Records, adding to the Memphis music legacy.  Swing by the Memphis Music Hall of Fame to see some of Cash’s handwritten lyrics, as well as his black three-piece pinstripe suit. 

Attractions: Sun Studio, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Johnny Cash Statue (Cooper-Young)

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

Born and raised in the Memphis area, Justin Timberlake is now one of the world’s most popular artists. The multi-Grammy Award-winning artist has sold over 30 million albums and has had five No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Today, Timberlake resides in Tennessee and still plays a major role in the Memphis community, including making major contributions to Stax Music Academy. You can find Timberlake’s Tom Ford Tuxedo and Air Jordan sneakers at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. 

Attractions: Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Stax Music Academy, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Shelby Forest General Store (where you can try his favorite burger in town), The Arcade Restaurant (site of his recent Levi's ad campaign)

OTIS REDDING

A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Redding was one of Stax Records' biggest names. Redding is attributed with having one of the most iconic voices, not just in his genre, but in all of music. Stax Museum of American Soul Music heavily features recounts and testimonials on Redding's life and career. Be sure to look for his favorite suede jacket on display at the museum. 

Attractions: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Backbeat Tours, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, The Lorraine Motel (a frequent hangout and songwriting spot)

Stax Museum of American Soul / Dan Ball
They say that there must have been something in the air in South Memphis, now known as Soulsville U.S.A. Acts like Booker T & the MGs, Carla Thomas and Isaac Hayes grew up in the neighborhood and Stax made them household names.

RUFUS THOMAS

A true Memphis music legend, Rufus Thomas played an influential role in forming the “Memphis sound.” Once a disc jockey for WDIA radio station, Thomas recorded at Sun Records before recording at Stax Records. Thomas’ hits “Walking the Dog” and “Do the Funky Chicken” remain two of the most popular songs in Stax’s renowned catalog. Thomas was known for his extravagant stage costumes, some of which you'll find at Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. 

Attractions: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, W.C. Handy Park (featuring a plaque in his honor), Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), The Orpheum (Gold Star), Sun Studio, Rufus Thomas Blvd. 

THREE 6 MAFIA 

Memphis is known as home of the blues and birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, but this iconic hip-hop group helped launch the city’s reputation in what is now the world's most popular genre. Today, the Memphis rap and hip-hop scene is growing rapidly, influencing the genre nationwide, and Three 6 Mafia can be linked to that success. Fans of “Triple 6” can find the group’s Academy Award for Best Original Song “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, as well as an autographed lyric sheet. The group recently began performing in reunion shows, so now's your chance to see this legendary group. 

Attractions: Memphis Music Hall of FameBeale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame)

W.C. HANDY

In 1909 a trumpet player from Alabama rode into Memphis, stopped at a club on Beale Street and began developing his signature style of song. W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues” took off like wildfire and influenced the likes of Bobby Blue Bland, Muddy Waters and the world-famous B.B. King. Handy, who is now known as “The Father of the Blues” and widely attributed with being the first to publish blues music, left a lasting legacy on music world-wide.

Attractions: Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), W.C. Handy Park, Memphis Rock ‘n’  Soul Museum, The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, American Dream Safari, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, W.C. Handy Home & Museum

WILLIE MITCHELL

As one of the most influential record producers in Memphis music history, Mitchell recorded artists including Al Green, Ann Peebles, Bobby Blue Bland, Ike and Tina Turner and Chuck Berry at Royal Studios. Look for Mitchell’s trumpet at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, or drive by Royal Studios to see a mural of this influential producer. 

Attractions: Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Royal Studios, Beale Street (Brass Note Walk of Fame), Backbeat Tours, American Dream Safari, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Willie Mitchell Blvd.

Legends In The Making

Even though decades have passed since the advent of the blues, the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and the soul explosion, one thing remains clear: When it comes to Memphis music, the beat goes on. Countless musicians flock to the city to this day in order to channel the icons who inspired them, and make new music out of old-familiar songs. 

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