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Memphis Rhythm

Music provides the soundtrack for museums, barbecue, and baseball.

When the music started, the people who had been standing around began to tap their toes, bounce their heads, and move their hips to the beat. But this wasn’t a dance hall or a dimly lit club.

Rosa Parks

Above: An exhibit on Rosa Parks at the National Civil Rights Museum. National Civil Rights Museum photo

Below: A view from the glass elevator of the floor at the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Bass Pro Shops photo


It was a museum.

Yet people couldn’t help themselves when the distinctive sounds of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis filled the room at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn. It’s impossible to stand still when you hear the rockabilly rhythms of “Blue Suede Shoes.” People just had to move to the beat at this recording studio museum that has been called the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.

When you’re in Memphis, you’ll feel like moving a lot because great music is around every corner. It’s in nearly every club, restaurant, and on the street. Music provides the soundtrack for a getaway that features barbecue, baseball, world-class museums, river lore, and an amazing new Bass Pro Shops location.

Musical Mecca

Ground zero for music in Memphis is legendary Beale Street. The three-block pedestrian-only section of this street features dozens of places to hear live blues and nearly every other genre. At night, it’s a veritable street party with music pulsing from clubs and sidewalk performers.

For an overview of the city’s musical evolution, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum tells the story of music pioneers, from the sharecroppers of the 1930s through Memphis’ musical heyday in the 1970s. The rich collection includes photos, costumes, and instruments, along with more than 100 songs you can hear through provided headphones. AAA members receive a ticket discount.

Next, head to Sun Studio where it has been said that “if music was a religion, then Memphis would be Jerusalem and Sun Studio its most holy shrine.” It’s hard not to agree after a guided tour where you see instruments and relics from the 1950s and ’60s and hear songs and outtakes from studio sessions. You can even hold Elvis’ microphone.

Soul also flourished in Memphis, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music honors the artists who recorded there, including Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. Located on the original site of the Stax Studio, which had been a movie theater, the museum contains more than 2,000 artifacts, exhibits, and films.

No visit would be complete without touring Graceland, Elvis’ home from 1957 until his death in 1977. A time capsule of his life and of the 1960s and ’70s, the full experience includes the mansion, auto museum, custom jets, and more. AAA members receive a discount.

Civil Rights and BEYOND

With recent protests across the nation raising questions about race and civil rights, it’s the perfect time to visit the outstanding National Civil Rights Museum, which unveiled a $27.5-million renovation last year. Housed in the Lorraine Motel, the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the museum provides a walk through five centuries of history, from slavery to seminal events of the 20th century. Visitors can climb aboard a bus with a statue of Rosa Parks and take a seat at a lunch counter sit-in beside three-dimensional figures.

While the museum is the city’s jewel, there are other gems, including the Memphis Riverboats. On 90-minute excursions, narrative about the Mississippi River and city complement beautiful views.

Food is an attraction unto itself, and barbecue takes center stage. Ribs and pulled pork are serious business. Among the many restaurants that serve up finger-licking flavor is Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous. Instead of coated in sauce, the ribs are dry-rubbed with seasoning.

For summer sports fans, the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Memphis Redbirds, play at AutoZone Park. A $6.5-million renovation recently spruced up the classic red brick ballpark.

The city’s newest addition is the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Located inside a transformed sports arena, the pyramid-shaped facility immerses visitors in a cypress swamp environment with 100-foot-tall cypress trees, an alligator habitat, and 600,000 gallons of water features teeming with fish and even live ducks. There’s also a bowling alley, lodge, and a free-standing elevator that takes visitors up 28 stories ($10 admission) to an outdoor glass-floored observation deck.

The Bass Pro ducks are surely jealous of the Peabody Marching Ducks, who live in the “Royal Duck Palace” on the roof of The Peabody, a historical AAA Four Diamond hotel. With great pageantry each day, a Duckmaster leads the ducks down the elevator and across a red carpet to the lobby fountain at 11 a.m., and they return to their penthouse at 5 p.m.

The duck march should not be missed, just as Memphis is a must-see destination for its blues, barbecue, history, and home runs.

Dennis R. Heinze is regional editor of the AAA Southern Traveler.

July/August 2015 Issue



For more details, contact the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau,
(800) 863-6744 or

To visit Memphis, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.


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