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Memphis – A City of Music, Food, Love and Fun – Come Take a Look With Us!
Overheard on a flight to Memphis, a man said to his wife, “Surely we’re not going to Graceland, are we?” to which she angrily replied, “Are you kidding me? I’m not going to Memphis without going to Graceland!”
No, traveler, don’t go to Memphis without going to Graceland. See all
Memphis is history and its history is music and river, and that means blues and race, grit and elegance, beauty and hard times. It means what happens when musical genius triumphs over the harshest of circumstances, and it means what happens when you take a poor 22-year-old boy out of a shotgun house in Tupelo, Mississippi, and make him a god.
Memphis is America.
Before Europeans arrived in the area, the Chickasaw Indians had settled on the high bluff above the river, which was known as the Mississippi. The area actually divides the upper and lower Mississippi and looks south toward the delta, the bayous, and what we think of as the Deep South. Two rivers meet here, the mighty Mississippi and the Wolf River. For these reasons, the area was an important and strategic place from before recorded history. In the middle of the 16th century De Soto came and 150 years later the French built a fort there, Fort Prudhomme. Later the English arrived and in 1800 Memphis was incorporated as a city and named after the ancient capital of Egypt. Today the Memphis metropolitan area has a population of nearly one and a half million, making it only slightly smaller than the Nashville metropolitan area, although within the actual city limits, Memphis is the largest city great from tennessee
Because of its strategic location, Memphis was the scene of a fierce battle in the Civil War and was eventually captured by Union forces. Devastating epidemics of yellow fever followed and for a time it seemed that the city would not recover. But despite this, Memphis called hundreds of freed slaves who came to the bluff city to work and brought their music with them. In those days, Memphis had a reputation for being an open, free-wheeling place, and as such, beckoned to people excited about freedom and happy to break free from repression. They played their music for themselves, but soon discovered that others were coming to the area just to hear their music and join in the fun. Memphis became famous.
Perhaps it was in part because of this history of racial freedom and miscegenation that Memphis eventually became a focal point in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King came to Memphis to support the strike of sanitation workers and was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. The motel where he was killed has recently become a National Historic Site.
The site of Graceland is in some ways exactly what you would expect and also in some surprising ways. The mansion (and that word really isn’t an exaggeration) stands on its own and has been shielded from any open commercial enterprise. The ticket office, the gift shop, the hype, are located on the other side of a four-lane road, and a small van takes visitors to and fro. It has been left, they say, exactly as it was when Elvis lived there, at least as it was the last time he had it redecorated. It’s luxurious and to some probably tacky. Except that the kitchen, which, we’re told, was the heart of the house and where the constant stream of guests and hangers-on congregated is surprisingly small and simple. We’re told Elvis loved to eat, but the fact that fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches are said to be his favorite food may explain that the kitchen doesn’t appear to have been designed for culinary masterpieces.
But the hospitality, generosity, love of family and sentimentality that are so much part of the Elvis Presley legend are evident everywhere in this iconic venue.
Another place where evidence of wealth abounds and is on profuse display is in the sumptuous lobby of the Peabody Hotel on Union Avenue. Even if it weren’t for the Parade of the Ducks, there’s enough to see in the Peabody—stylish shops, jewelry, art—to make the short trip downtown worth it. Yes, we said “Duck Parade” and if you don’t know we won’t tell you enough to spoil it for you. Only this: the ducks live in the hotel’s attic at night and spend their days in the lobby fountain, parading down the elevator lobby in the fountain twice a day with as much ceremony as the changing of the guard at the palace Buckingham. Another thing you CANNOT miss in Memphis!
And then there’s Beale Street where the music started and still thrives.
Here is the night life: some say the life of Memphis. Nightclub after nightclub, 30 of them in three blocks, each playing music you can’t hear anywhere else. The blues, of course, the music that was born here, but also jazz, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, gospel, whatever. Pick your music and your club, but if you’re going to BB Kings, get the chops and wherever you go expect to stay late – the musicians don’t start heating up until after 10.
Plan to stay a few days and it’s a good idea to take a tour at some point. Otherwise, you might not know where to find Sun Studio, the tiny storefront where Elvis made that recording of “That’s All Right, Momma” that was the start of a wild ride for a southern boy and beginning of a cultural change for the whole country.
This is just a taste of what awaits you in Memphis: we haven’t even mentioned the famous St. Jude’s that has to be seen to be believed, the Rock ‘N Soul Museum, the Mississippi River Museum, the Civil Rights Museum, art, opera…too many to list. You’ll have to come and see for yourself, and then, “Come back, huh?”
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