No visit to the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll would be complete without a tour of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s sprawling 14-acre estate. Marvel at the quirky wonders of the King’s mansion and enjoy self-guided tours of special exhibitions. Then cross Elvis Presley Boulevard to check out his vintage collection of automobiles and airplanes.
Tour Sun Studio, where rock ‘n’ roll was born when pioneering music producer Sam Phillips took a risk by blending musical styles. Blues artists B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf recorded here in the early 1950s, setting the stage for rockers Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Still an active recording studio, Sun has attracted the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Ringo Starr and Tom Petty. This National Historic Landmark – which has appeared in a number of films, including “Great Balls of Fire” and “Walk the Line” – is guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience for music lovers and history buffs alike.
A must for soul-music fans, the 17,000-square-foot Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located a short drive from downtown in the neighborhood known as Soulsville USA, is the site of the original Stax Records. It houses more than 2,000 cultural artifacts celebrating the musical contributions of artists like Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Al Green and Aretha Franklin.
Take an incredible musical journey through Memphis from the 1930s to today in the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. This Smithsonian Institution exhibit in the heart of downtown includes the stories of Sun, Stax and Hi Records. An interactive digital audio tour includes more than 100 songs and guides you through seven galleries featuring more than 30 instruments, 40 costumes and a variety of other musical treasures.
Visit Levitt Shell, the outdoor amphitheater where young Elvis Presley took the stage on July 30, 1954, in what historians have called the first-ever rock ‘n’ roll show. Built during the Depression, it served as an orchestra performance venue in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, the nonprofit Levitt Shell produces free multicultural music concerts for the people of Memphis.
If you really want to cozy up to Memphis, take a 90-minute Backbeat Tours guided tour led by professional musicians who use songs, comedy and anecdotes to tell the story of our city. You’re sure to be entertained by these renowned local storytellers, who periodically belt out tunes with a fair amount of guitar-strumming and tambourine-shaking.
And where would rock ‘n’ roll be without its signature instrument? Tour the Gibson Guitar Beale Street Showcase Factory a block south of Beale Street, where Gibson’s highly skilled luthiers craft some of the world’s most coveted guitars – ones that have helped shape music for more than 100 years.
A visit to Beale Street, the official Home of the Blues, is a rite of passage for any serious music fan. By day, tour the restored home-turned-museum of Father of the Blues W.C. Handy. When evening falls, catch world-class music acts at clubs such as B.B. King’s Blues Club, Rum Boogie Café and Blues City Café. Then head to The Pig on Beale to indulge in some slow-smoked ribs or over to King’s Palace Café for down-home Southern cuisine. Whether you’re a foodie, a music fan or a history buff, a romp on Beale is sure to satisfy all your cravings.
Also see our off-the-beaten-path trip ideas to Memphis music.