Archive for October, 2015

When you think Memphis, hopefully you think music and food.
Of course there is so much more but the city is world famous for Rock N’
Roll, Soul, and Blues music, as well as Barbeque, especially ribs.
Memphis is one of the few cities in the US that even has awesome food at their airport!

The city has a population of just under 655,000 making it the largest city in the state of Tennessee, although Nashville’s metropolitan area is larger.  It is also the largest city on the Mississippi River.

I always tell my travelers that in olden times  “the rivers were the roads.”  Since the city is located on a large bluff rising from the Mississippi River, the town site has been a natural location for human settlement.

The Mound Builders settled in the area thousands of years ago and there is a lot of evidence of their existence here.  De Soto, the explorer, broke off from Coronado in the 1540’s and traveled the river.  These men were searching for the Lost Cities of Gold, which of course obviously they never found.  Then in the mid 1600’s Marquette and Joliet traveled the river all the way up to Wisconsin and Michigan in their quest to civilize the natives and save souls.

Since the city had a large slave trade the people voted to seceded from the Union in June 1861, and briefly became a Confederate stronghold. However ironclad gunboats captured the city in June 1862 and the town was occupied by the Union Army for the duration of the war.  The presence of the Union Army attracted many fugitive slaves to the city and the black population of Memphis increased from 3,000 in 1860 to nearly 20,000 in 1865.

In the 1870’s plagues ran rampant all over the United States (these illnesses decimated the Native American populations out West) and over half of the population of Memphis died.  Robert Church became the first African American millionaire and he did this by buying up properties of the deceased with no living relatives.

The city is the home of founders and pioneers of various American music genres, including soul, blues, gospel, and rock n’ roll. Many musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Booker T. & the MG’s , Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, and B.B. King, got their start in Memphis in the 1950s and 1960s.  Both Sun Records and Stax Records are reminders of this colorful time.

The famous Beale Street is a national historical landmark, and shows the impact Memphis has had on American blues.  Any night but especially on weekends, people come out dressed in their finest to visit the restaurants and clubs that made this area famous or should I say “infamous.”.

There are also many museums in the area as well as A. Schwab’s famous dry goods store that advertises “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”  I had one passenger get really excited when he saw some toys for sale he remembers playing with back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

And there are so many other places to visit in the area.  First, I have to mention the most famous: Elvis Presley’s Graceland.  No matter what you think of Elvis’ taste, this 14 acre estate where you see how he lived, including the “jungle room”  and his gold records, awards and costumes is worth at least a one time visit.

Don’t forget to atop by Sam Philips’ Sun Studio which is opened for tours. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison all made their first recordings there, and were “discovered” by Phillips. Many great blues artists also recorded there, such as W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues.

Another “must” stop as mentioned previously is Stax Records which created a classic 1960s soul music sound.  Booker T. and the M.G.s
were the label’s big band for most of the classic hits that came out of
Stax.  But also Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and many others recorded
there. This music still lives on in the Blues Brothers movie, in which many of the musicians starred as themselves.

There is a trolley that runs all over the downtown so you don’t have to find a place to park. And this gives you your bearings for all the great sites to visit. Be sure and walk into the Peabody hotel to see the famous
ducks.  And just on the other side of Beale Street is the Lorraine Motel
where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.  Every day a bouquet of flowers is placed on the 2nd story at the site of the shooting.  The National Civil
Rights Museum is also located there and definitely worth a visit.

While in Memphis be sure and have a piece of pie.  But remember as the dumb laws for Tennessee state “all pie must be eaten on the premise.  No pie may be taken out!”  Where that law came from is anyone’s guess.

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