Take away its music, and Memphis would lose its soul. Memphis may owe its existence to the Mississippi River, but music has defined this Southern metropolis. Memphis music started with the spirituals and work songs of poor Mississippi Delta cotton farmers who came to Memphis and created a new sound: the Memphis blues. The blues spawned its own offspring: soul, R&B, country, and, of course, rock ’n’ roll as sung by a poor truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi, named Elvis Presley.
On any given weekend you can still find juke joints where the music flows as freely as the booze, and sitting still is not an option. On Beale Street, music wafts from inside smoky bars out onto the street, inviting you to come inside for a spell. And on Sundays, the sounds of old-fashioned spirituals and new gospel music can be heard at churches throughout the city.
Memphis music is the backbeat of any visit to the city, but by no means the only reason to come. For as rich as Memphis’s history is, this is a city that does not live in its past. The past two decades have been ones of rebirth for Memphis, giving new life to the city as a tourist destination. An NBA franchise arrived, the National Civil Rights Museum opened on the grounds of the Lorraine Motel, a fantastic AAA baseball field opened, and Memphis made its mark with films such as Hustle & Flow, Forty Shades of Blue, and Black Snake Moan. In 2008, more than 9 million people visited Memphis.
While you’re here, sustain yourself on the city’s world-famous barbecue, its fried chicken and catfish, and its homemade plate lunches. Eating may not be why you come, but it will be why you stay.
Memphis is a city of the South. More than just the largest city in Tennessee, Memphis is the hub city for the entire Mid-South, which stretches from West Tennessee all the way down into Mississippi and Arkansas. As such, the city is a melting pot of cultural, musical, culinary, and economic influences from the entire Mississippi River delta.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition