Express & Star

US city known for music heritage has soul much more to offer as well.

You can't get away from the influence of music in Memphis – but then who would really want to?

The outside of the famous Stax Studios which now houses the American museum of Soul

Home to Elvis' mansion at Graceland and the world famous Sun Studio where he took his first tentative steps in securing a recording contract, those are two of the must see sites on a visit to this pleasant Southern city which exudes charm and character and still has a small town feel to it. Straddled by the Mississippi river and including parts of that state and Arkansas.

Even if you are only there for one night and don't have time to visit the musical heritage sites, a walk down Beale Street will provide you with top quality blues and rock acts playing in the many bars and clubs including BB King's with no cover charge and the chance to indulge in something else Memphis is renowned for - unbeatable barbecue and ribs.

Beale Street is also the location for the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum, one of the four must sees for music fans, but Memphis does offer a lot for all ages and persuasions.

The sign outside the Mephis museum of rock and soul in Beale Street

We stayed at the wonderful Hotel Napoleon downtown, designed inside the Press Scimitar Building built in 1902, an added to the National Historic Places list in 1983. it once housed the daily Memphis Press Scimitar daily newspaper and the lobby features front pages from historical happenings, including of course the death of Elvis on August 16 1977.

The Hotel Napoleon downtown Memphis

Pleasingly for a sports fan, the hotel was right next to the baseball stadium of the Triple A Memphis Redwings and there just happened to be a game on that night. which for American culture lovers was a must see. The NBA basketball Memphis Grizzlies are housed at the nearby Fed Ex Forum and if is is in season, a game should definitely be on the agenda.

Just a block away, the famous Peabody Duck march takes place at 11am every day at the historic hotel of the same name. The world famous and royally treated ducks are brought down from their luxurious abode in the penthouse sweet to march through the lobby and into the fountain watched by fascinated visitors - it has been a daily occurrence for 90 years.

The famous Peabody ducks make there way down the red carpet in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis at 11am every day

The hotel itself is worth seeing for its splendour and also in the lobby is Lansky's, named after Bernard Lansky who provided Elvis Presley's wardrobe for free when he started recording as a youngster, The King paying him back in kind later in his career. As well as high end clothing there are pictures of the many music stars who have paid a visit to get a new wardrobe including Robert Plant, Miley Cyrus and Carlos Santana.

For those who want to see more animals of all shapes and sizes there is the Memphis Zoo, home to over 3,500 of them in total including giant pandas and will probably take a full day to visit.

Top of my list even before the music attractions was the National Civil Rights Museum housed in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Billed as 'The Greatest Civil Rights Story Ever Told,' Luther King's visit to the city and subsequent death left an indelible mark on US history and changed its path forever.

The Lorraine Motel where the shooting of Martin Luther King took place on April 4 1968

Also on the history and culture theme is the family friendly Pink Palace Museum and The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum which educates visitors on life in the pre-Civil War South.

But there is no getting away from it, Memphis is known first of all for its music culture and a visit to the Sun Studio which is just a short walk from downtown is a must.

Known as 'The Birthplace of Rock and Roll.' owner and manager Sam Phillips became almost as famous in music folklore as the artists he discovered and the studio first housed – they include Elvis Presley of course, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.

The recording studio at Sun Records, where Elvis Presley cut some of his first tracks.
Recording equipment in Sun Studio where the likes of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison laid down records

It has also housed more modern day recording artists such as U2 and is still used when closed as a recording studio today. The 40 minute tour, by an infectious guide who plays in two bands himself but clearly loves his main day job, is a joy.

He tells you the inside story of B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and Ike Turner before Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison who were all drawn to the new Sun Sound.

The building is not massive and the tour not long, which gives you the chance to also visit on the same day the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

The outside of the famous Stax Studios which now houses the American museum of Soul
Isaac Haye's gold plated cadillac which is a popular exhibit at the Stax Museum of American Soul
A 'Wall of Sound' at the Stax American Museum of Soul

Inspired by Sam Phillips' cross town studio, he and his sister set up Stax Records at its present location in a former movie theatre on McLemore Ave after originally starting the company in Brunswick further west.

Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs, Carla Thomas, William Bell and Rufus Thomas became synonymous with the label and the sound and all are heavily featured in the museum along with Isaac Hayes who become soul music’s first superhero.

Hayes was a young black man who had risen from poverty to prove he could do everything musically—sing, play keyboards and saxophone, produce, compose, arrange, and score motion pictures and provided the theme from the movie Shaft which was released in 1971 and would go on to spawn four sequels.

Exhibits include his gold plated Cadillac which has a fur-lined interior, television, refrigerated bar, and 24-karat gold detailing on the exterior including gold wind shield wipers – the car is worth a visit in itself.

And of course if you want opulence, you will want to make the eight mile journey out of town to Elvis Presley Boulevard where his magnificent Graceland mansion stands proudly, welcoming over 650,000 worldwide visitors every year.

The famous Graceland mansion where Elvis Presley lived and is buried, along with members of his family.

Set in 13 acres and housing the graves of Elvis Presley and his parents, grandmother, grandson and daughter, it features museum restaurants, the inevitable shops and plenty of other attractions related to the King of Rock and Roll himself. Allow at least a full afternoon to get the full experience.

In all Memphis offers a slightly more laid back, compact and friendlier feel than that other famous Tennessee music city Nashville, which in itself is only 290 miles away so a visit to both is a popular route. but for sure don't miss out on Memphis first of all.

Paul Jenkins

* I stayed at the historic Napoleon Hotel at Madison Avenue and was the guest of Lofthouse Enterprises and Memphis travel at

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