Memphis Rocks
May/Jun 2004

Above: The Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Memphis CVB photo
Below: A guide shows a tour group the finer points of a Gibson guitar. Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein photo
Bottom: Sun Studios Memphis CVB photo

Before You Go
For more information, contact the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-873-6282 or visit www.memphistravel.com.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

From Elvis to Beale Street, this saucy city will strike a chord as a place for great music, food and more.
By Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein

n July 5, 1954, a teenage delivery truck driver walked into Sun Studios in Memphis. He paid to record two songs. Owner Sam Phillips recognized this talented boy as the answer to his prayers. A legend was born that never died.

Elvis Presley recorded “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” The two songs shook up the music world, creating a new American sound and reshaping musical tastes. Memphis became known as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.

Memphis means music

Memphis is more than Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll. Some say it’s the center of the musical universe. You’ll want to dance to soulful melodies spilling out of Beale Street establishments. Many museums pay homage to Memphis’ musical heritage. The whole city’s a musical happening.

Soul meets rock

Slide into your dancing shoes and boogie through the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. It’s the place to start getting in touch with the Memphis sound.

The Smithsonian Institution’s permanent exhibit, “Rock ‘n’ Soul: Social Crossroads,” traces Memphis’ musical history from its roots. Put on a headset and turn on the CD player. You’re ready to rock to the music of Memphis greats. Admire displays of outrageous stage outfits and artifacts. View thought-provoking exhibits about the civil rights movement.

Discover how music broke down racial barriers. Become knowledgeable about the establishment of gospel and the blues in fields and churches.


After visiting the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, tour the Gibson Guitar Factory located on the second floor of Gibson’s Building. Tours, available only by reservation, take about 30 minutes.
t’s a working factory, and guests wear goggles to safeguard their eyes. Dust embraces everyone and everything. We watched artistic craftsmen take solid blocks of quality wood and magically shape them into instruments. Don’t expect high-tech machinery. The fact that human hands create these instruments is one of Gibson’s claims to fame.

Jimmy, our musician-guide, told us it takes approximately two weeks for a guitar to be created, during which time the instrument travels through 16 stations with inspections at every step.

Music for your soul

Last spring, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the adjacent Stax Music Academy sprung to life out of the rubble from a razed music studio. Musical legends like Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs recorded there.

The museum recounts the racially integrated effort that occurred in turbulent, segregated times. Co-founder Jim Stewart said, “There is no segregation in music–it tears down the barriers between black and white.”

Soul music became popular during the civil rights movement. Stax, along with Hi Studios, developed a distinct sound that took soul music to America’s masses.

There’s much to see and hear in the 12,800-foot area that showcases more than 2,000 fascinating exhibits, including Isaac Hayes’ glitzy gold-trimmed 1972 Cadillac, a relocated 100-year-old Mississippi Delta church and a re-creation of Studio A where the Stax sound was born.

Blues, brews and

Memphis music doesn’t limit itself to museums. It’s a living, viable commodity. Hear it live in clubs along Beale Street. Hear it while devouring barbecue and soul food at nightclubs including those bearing the names of Isaac Hayes, B.B. King and Elvis Presley.

Indulge in scrumptious Memphis-style dry, rubbed ribs at the city’s famed Rendezvous. Take time to admire their collection of antiques and memorabilia. Begin your meal with the cheese and sausage appetizer.

For dry or wet ribs visit Neely’s or Corky’s Bar-B-Que restaurants. Neely’s is a neighborhood hangout with no frills. Corky’s is off the beaten path, but extremely popular.

Other things

First-timers to Memphis must visit Sun Studios, the National Civil Rights Museum and Elvis’ Graceland. Returning visitors can move on to the Memphis Zoo that recently opened a permanent China exhibit featuring two rambunctious giant pandas, Le-Le and Ya-Ya.

Visit Tennessee’s oldest and largest fine-arts museum, Brooks Museum. Their comprehensive permanent collection includes works from ancient times to the present.

The Glory of Georgian England” is the special exhibit running now through May 30.

Upcoming exhibits include "Picasso: 25 years of Edition Ceramics” (June 15–Aug. 29) and “Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt” that will run from Aug. 28–Oct. 24.

Spend a museum day including lunching on exquisitely prepared edibles at the Brushmark Café and finding unique gifts in the museum store.

At The Pyramid, visitors can view the exhibit, “Masters of Florence: Glory and Genius at the Court of the Medici,” opening April 23 and running through Oct. 3. See page 8 in this issue for information on AAA discounts.

New hotel on the block

Consider a stay at the intimate 110-room European-style boutique Madison Hotel. You will find luxurious surroundings, roomy rooms, high-tech everything and great service.

Each day begins with complimentary continental breakfast. Take the elevator to the 16th floor rooftop patio for awesome views of the Mississippi River.

Memphis struck a chord with us. Check out this saucy Southern city and see if the two of you will make beautiful music together.

Rock ‘n’ roll:
50 years young

This is the million dollar quartet. Taken at Sun Studio, this famous photo features some of the greatest performers in rock 'n' roll history: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
It’s only fitting that Memphis is leading the national celebration of rock ‘n’ roll’s 50th anniversary this year with some rousing events.

Spectacular celebrations occur on July 5, the day Elvis Presley changed musical history with his record of “That’s All Right.” On that day, they have scheduled “The Global Moment in Time.” Radio stations throughout the world will be encouraged to simultaneously play “That’s All Right.” This promises to mark the largest playing of a single song at the same moment in history.

Expect a lot of fanfare at Sun Studios that day. Alex Turner of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau said there would be a block party with the street shut down. Musicians who formerly recorded there and many friends will be on hand. For a finalized list of events, visit www.50yearsrocknroll.com.

The annual Elvis Week always offers up spectacular events. The 2004 celebration takes place August 7–16. Every year, fans converge on the city for a week to pay homage to their idol. Elvis’ die-hard fans think of it as a family reunion. To get day–by-day listings for Elvis Week, visit www.elvis.com.

This year’s anniversary promises to be more dazzling than ever. All the exhibit areas at the Graceland complex will be expanded with Elvis career and personal artifacts that have rarely or never been shown.

– Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein

Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

^ to top | previous page

Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.