Memphis is known as the Home of the Blues, the Birthplace of Rock and the Cradle of American Music, and those are all fitting titles when you consider the many famous artists who have called the historic Mississippi River town home — W.C. Handy, B.B. King and Isaac Hayes, as well as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, to mention only a few.
Today, Memphis is more than just a Mecca for musicians; it is a clean, thriving, vibrant and youthful city with a lot going on, from a vibrant entertainment district to a dynamic business community with a growing tourism industry. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Memphis is Graceland, the storied home of Elvis Presley, today listed as the third most-visited private home in the USA, behind only the White House and the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, NC. Graceland draws about 600,000 people every year who want to see the place where the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll hung his hat.
There is a lot more to see and do in Memphis. Take a stroll down the cobblestones of historic Beale Street in the heart of downtown and you are certain to find a restaurant or club with food, music and entertainment to your liking.
B.B. King reigns supreme here and his name adorns several shops and businesses, including the popular B.B. King’s Blues Club. Anchored by the Orpheum Theatre at one end and the Hard Rock Café on the other, with a wide variety of clubs, restaurants and retail shops in between, Beale Street is alive virtually every night of the week with blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, soul and gospel. At just about any time, you will find live music, outdoor concerts and rockin’ nightclubs.
Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and officially named the Home of the Blues by an act of Congress in 1977, it’s not hard to understand why Beale Street is the most visited attraction in Tennessee.
BARBECUE IS THE CULINARY SPECIALTY
There is a restaurant to suit just about any taste in Memphis, although the city’s traditional cuisine is not for those with weak stomachs. The widest variety of restaurant options is Downtown where there is everything from Japanese to Mexican fare. But the hometown culinary excellence is barbecue and Memphis chefs serve up some of the best in the country.
There are more than 70 barbecue bistros in the city, each with its own individual recipe, and many of the hole-in-the-wall cafes in the outlying areas are both tasty and inexpensive.
Some of the restaurants to be enjoyed are Miss Polly’s and the Creole Kitchen, as well as the Rendezvous with its rustic decor and finger-lickin’-good barbecue ribs. Be sure to sample the barbecue chicken, pulled pork and buttery grits, all Memphis staples, and such traditional treats as fried pickles, meatloaf and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, said to be Elvis’ favorite snack. If you really enjoy barbecue, you’ll want to plan your visit around the annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest that takes place every year in May.
OLD SOUTH CHARM, CIVIL RIGHTS AND MUSEUMS
But nightlife and delicious dining are just the beginning of what Memphis has to offer. As Tennessee’s largest city, it is steeped in Old South charm and it combines southern tradition with modern amenities.
Memphis residents are friendly and known for their southern hospitality so don’t be shy about asking for directions or striking up a conversation. Memphis serves as a poignant reminder of the Civil Rights Movement, for it was here that Martin Luther King Jr. petitioned for the equal rights of black sanitation workers in 1968. Just a few days later, he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel, which has been developed into the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Other places you will want to visit are Mud Island River Park and the art museum at the University of Memphis. A visit to the Gibson Guitar manufacturing plant is an interesting sidebar tour and you will learn the intricacies of creating a beautiful electric guitar. A stop at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music will broaden your knowledge about the musical legends that have passed through Memphis, and the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of Asian art in the southern U.S.
The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is the location of a 15th Century mound that interprets the pre-history of the mid-south and contemporary southeastern Indian cultures; the Center for Southern Folklore showcases and celebrates the history and cultures of the South; and, if you are a railroad buff, the Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum just east of Memphis is a must see.
There also are numerous historic homes and mansions in and around Memphis available for individual visits or guided sightseeing tours that you won’t want to miss.
Memphis is truly one of the great cities in the United States, steeped in history and Old South charm. It’s a marvelous destination for a late summer or fall vacation. For more information, go to