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Celebrate Memphis: The history of music

Memphis' best-known landmarks are Beale Street and Graceland. They both scream music. In no other city in the country can you find the very roots of the rhy...
CELEBRATE MEMPHIS: The history of music

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) — Memphis’ best-known landmarks are Beale Street and Graceland. They both scream music. In no other city in the country can you find the very roots of the rhythms that move us — from funk and soul to the beat of rock and roll. As the city of Memphis marks its bicentennial, we celebrate the history of Memphis Music.

If you take a dart and just throw it on a Memphis map, it’s sure to land on a landmark with a musical note. Take Memphis’ most iconic street – Beale Street. Dating back to the 1800s and until this very day, you’ll hear jazz along the street, blues, funk, and even a little rock and roll.

And here along Beale Street, you’ll find Handy Park named after W.C. Handy, the man who some say hit a high note and first put the Bluff City on the chart.

Handy is known as the Father of the Blues, credited with making Memphis the Home of the Blues — the first man to copyright a blues song. It’s enough to make many on Beale Street flip out or at least take a flip or two down the street. 

Not far from Beale Street is Memphis’ Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum. It sits adjacent to FedExForum.  Inside, you’ll see exhibits showcasing the names that put Memphis music on the map.

“We may be the most important music city in the world to modern music because you know blues was put out to the world here. Rock and roll was invented here,” said Royal Studios’ Boo Mitchell.

From the Rock “N’ Soul Museum head across the street, and it’s the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

“It’s really been appreciated outside of Memphis; especially, in Europe,” said Stax Executive Director Jeff Kollath. “To them seeing Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MG’s in 1967 was like the Beatles coming to the United States in 1964. People just lost their minds.”

Travel on a quiet street south of Downtown, and you’ll find where American Soul music was born here at Stax. You’ll see Isaac Hayes’ 24-karat gold tricked out Cadillac, Otis Redding’s clothing, and even a real church inside where many music genres started.

“Stax was one of those rare places where Blacks and Whites could work together and be together and realize harmony during a time of great unrest,” said Kollath.

Turn a few corners and there sits Royal Studios. It’s one of the oldest, continuously operating music recording studios in the world. It’s widely known for producing artists such as Al Green, Chuck Berry, John Mayer, Anthony Hamilton, and Rod Stewart.

“I just feel like a custodian of the Memphis sound and what my father created and what all the other great Memphis artists exemplified,” said Mitchell.

Near Downtown, yet another recording studio — Sun Studio.  It’s where Elvis Presley recorded as well as Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

“It blew the racial barriers in radio and music out the window, man,” said Sun Studio’s Jerry Phillips. “When he (my father) got out of church on Sundays, he’d go by the black church and sit out and listen to the music.”

And for many visitors who flock here from all over the world, the granddaddy stop of them all is Presley’s Graceland. His mansion, private gardens, aircraft, and more leave visitors all shook up every year.

So, from this look around town you can see on just about every corner, Memphis is Music.

Local 24 is a proud supporting partner of ‘A New Century of Soul,’ the official Memphis bicentennial celebrations.

Join us on Saturday, May 25, 2019, for a live two-hour prime-time special, ‘Celebrate Memphis’, in association with Memphis in May.