So, you have one day in Memphis and you need to decide what to see. What do you do?
Well, if you’re us, you push yourself from before sunrise to well after sunset. We departed Cape Girardeau for the 2.5-hour drive to the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
On the itinerary: Graceland (duh!), National Civil Rights Museum, Sun Studio and Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. If possible, the Memphis Zoo.
Our first stop was Graceland. For those non-Elvis people, this was Elvis Presley’s home that he bought when he was 22 years old. It was home to him, his wife Priscilla, daughter Lisa Marie and his parents.
Graceland was a mansion. We were impressed with how small the actual house was. It has 23 rooms, but looked small. There are several buildings on the property that were used by Elvis and his family.
Today, I think it’d be the guest house on the property of the mega stars, who think they need property the size of a small country.
Graceland is big business. Hundreds of thousands of people flock annually to visit the home of the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Visitors have to take a shuttle bus from the complex entrance to the mansion. The self-guided tours include iPads with the tour narrated by actor/musician John Stamos. The tour is conducted in several languages.
The mansion includes the entrance, living room, dining room, kitchen, parents’ bedroom, TV (media) room and the famous “Jungle Room.”
Touring the grounds include the small building where his dad Vernon and the business staff worked, the pastures with horses still roaming, the trophy room (with gold and platinum records displayed among other items) and the racquetball building (where more memorabilia are displayed). Elvis actually played the piano in the racquetball building the morning of his death.
The final stop on the mansion tour is the meditation garden, where the Presley family is buried – Elvis, his parents and grandmother. A memorial to his twin brother is located near the gravesites. He died in early childhood and was buried in their hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi.
Included on some tours of the property is the new Presley Archives Studio. Visitors can see items that researchers are working on that haven’t been shared with the public yet, including a “cell” phone used by Elvis.
The entrance is home to the Elvis car collection. The museum has a few vehicles that belonged to the King, including a pink Cadillac that he gave to his mom. Also, he had a snowmobile fitted so he could drive it around the grounds.
Other attractions at the entrance include Elvis’ Tupelo, Elvis: Live from Vegas, Elvis’ Hawaii, as well as the custom planes he used.
For more on the Graceland tour, please visit www.graceland.com.
Sun Studio is where it began for Elvis, as well as other famous artists, including Johnny Cash. Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Perkins may be the least known of the quartet, but “Blue Suede Shoes” was a hit song for him, before Elvis basically owned it.
Elvis, Johnny, Jerry and Carl made up what a reporter termed “The Million Dollar Quartet” because of how successful they were or were going to be (in Lewis’ case).
Sun Studio is considered the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It all started when Elvis sang an up-tempo version of “That’s Alright.” The studio has taped marks where Elvis and the two other musicians stood when they recorded the song.
Johnny Cash (one of my all-time favorites) was the most consistent hit maker for the label. Elvis’ contract had been sold to another label to keep Sun Studio in operation.
The tour is fun. The guide we had showed her love for the music throughout our tour. You check out a small exhibit on the second floor featuring recording equipment and then memorabilia featuring musicians, such as BB King.
The radio studio of WHBQ DJ Dewey Phillips – who made a song a hit or broke the record on the floor – is on display.
Heading downstairs to the actual recording studio where the “Quartet” made hit songs. It was an awesome feeling knowing that you were standing in the same room where Elvis belted out some of his early hits; where Johnny Cash launched his career. Amazing!
The studio is used for recording. Artists – U2 and Chris Izaak, among them – record at night. Tours are conducted during the day. U2 even left behind a set of drums.
For more information on Sun Studio, please visit www.sunstudio.com.
The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum on Beale Street combines the early Rockabilly music with soul and jazz. Musicians – both white and African-American – discuss through film and recordings the effect each style had on them. I was surprised to hear country star Charlie Rich discuss singing blues with African Americans as they both picked cotton. This was common among share croppers of both races. I am only familiar with a little of Rich’s career as he was “big” during my childhood.
The museum does a quality job with its exhibits. It shows the lives of share croppers, then moves on to the role music played for all races.
While Dewey Phillips and WHBQ was the hit make for mainly white artists, WDIA was the station for black performers. Not to be outdone, there was also an all-woman station – WHER.
Sun Studio and STAX studio worked with both white and black musicians.
The museum has some great items on display – clothes worn by Al Green, including his reverend frock; Isaac Hayes’ fur coats, and a variety of juke boxes. The organ and guitar used to write Elvis’ hit “Suspicious Minds” are on display.
For more information on the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, please visit http://www.memphisrocknsoul.org/.
Our visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel was special to both of us. This was the spot where the great reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, by James Early Ray.
The motel was turned into a national museum through the years. It covers the early struggles of African Americans, including the days of being forced to come to the western hemisphere as slaves.
In the lobby is a beautiful sculpture. It depicts the struggle for civil rights and features people climbing the hill to achieve their right vote, as well as to be treated equally among whites.
Visitors walk through history, including the post-Civil War Reconstruction of the south, Jim Crow days, the March on Selma, the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person, as well as the day Dr. King was assassinated.
The museum explores the struggle for civil rights, including the groups that fought for them – the Black Panthers, as well as the American Indian Movement. As a side note, my oldest brother John led AIM as its president for several years.
The museum owns the building from where Ray shot Dr. King. An exhibit features the room he rented, as well as evidence used to convict him.
For more information on the National Civil Rights Museum, please visit http://civilrightsmuseum.org/.
In-between stops, we grabbed lunch at Central BBQ, which is across the street from the civil rights museum.
Standing in line for what seemed like an eternity (ok, about 15 minutes); we placed our order and grabbed a table.
The food was excellent. We were told it was worth waiting for, and that information was correct. Lisa had a Carolina pulled pork (with coleslaw on top). I had a brisket special. Excellent!
We finished out day in Memphis with a walk along the famous Beale Street. Revelers were active in the street. You can actually carry drinks in the street in that area.
We saw BB King’s place. Jerry Lee Lewis had a restaurant and bar on Beale. We “had” to stop at Hard Rock Café. Lisa loves herself some Hard Rock Cafes. We checked out the memorabilia. It was all good.
We ended the day by checking into the Hyatt Place hotel. We booked with what is our default chain when traveling. You know what you get with a Hyatt Place. The quality is difficult to beat.
We’d like to share more about our Memphis visit in the coming days.
This was our second trip to Memphis. The only thing we did this time that we did before was visit Beale Street. And that was during the day.
Our previous trip included watching the ducks march at the Peabody Hotel (a big tourist attraction), visit Beale Street, visit Mud Island and the airplane Memphis Belle (which was on display there) and take in a Memphis Redbirds baseball game at AutoZone Park.
So, based on what we did on both trips, Memphis offers enough attractions to warrant another visit. Next time, we will visit the Memphis Zoo and check out the Panda living there.
Disclaimer: Thanks to the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau for the complimentary tickets to Graceland, National Civil Rights Museum, Sun Studio and Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. However, all opinions and views are ours.