From the birth of the blues in the early 1900’s to the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and soul in the 50’s, Memphis has long been a music mecca. But there’s so much more to Memphis than just music.
The Blues On Beale
We strolled down legendary Beale Street, enjoying the sensory overload of neon lights, blues tunes spilling out of the bars and cafés, and the enticing aroma of smoky barbecue.
The Memphis Rock’n’Soul Museum
We spent hours exploring the history of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll in the excellent Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum at the corner of Beale and Highway 61, also known as the Blues Highway.
Sun Studio: The Birthplace Of Rock’n’Roll
We had a blast on a high-energy tour of tiny Sun Studio, reliving the day when 19-year old Elvis Presley walked through the door and cut his first record.
Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, basically didn’t give a rip about Jim Crow laws—all he cared about was the music and providing equal opportunities for musicians. His work helped to break down racial barriers in the music industry. Phillips introduced not only Elvis, but also Howlin’ Wolf, B. B. King, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis to the world—and music has never been the same.
The National Civil Rights Museum
We took a break from our music immersion to spend an afternoon at the superb National Civil Rights Museum. Poignantly housed in the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, the museum takes an unflinching look at the struggles and victories of Black Americans. Alternately heartbreaking and triumphant, the Civil Rights Museum is one of the most inspiring museums we’ve visited.
Memphis has had a difficult past, rife with economic problems, racial issues, and most tragically, the assassination of Dr. King. Many people say that the racial lines are still strongly drawn here. Memphis consistently ranks as one of the poorest big cities in the country, as well as one of the most crime-ridden. There’s an abundant police presence in the downtown area (including Beale Street), which is both disquieting and reassuring.
As for our personal experience, we found Beale Street to be clean and remarkably well behaved. We were there mid-week, which undoubtedly contributed to the mellow vibe. We loved the music, the downtown area is attractive and clearly on the upswing, and the museums are some of the most interesting we’ve visited anywhere.
We’re looking forward to a return visit to catch the things we missed our first time around—and we’re still in search of the perfect barbecue. For those who might be wondering, we bypassed Graceland—it’s ridiculously expensive and painfully tacky, just like Elvis’s sequined jumpsuits. However, we did stop by his modest birthplace in Tupelo on our way out of Memphis.
About The Campgrounds
In Memphis: T. O. Fuller State Park is convenient (about 10 miles from Beale Street) and attractive. The sites are large, level, and paved, with electric and water hookups. Extras include several hiking trails, a coin laundry, and an ice machine. Verizon coverage is decent. Here’s the best part: Tennessee State Parks offers a senior discount in the late fall and winter, so our site was a mere $11 per night.
Note: We’ve since read that there is a nasty sewage smell from the nearby sewage treatment plant. It wasn’t a problem when we were there (and I have a very sensitive nose!) but apparently it can be bad.
In Tupelo: Just five miles outside of Tupelo, Mississippi, Tombigbee State Park was a perfect stop as we headed south. It’s a lovely small park with only 20 sites. Full hook-ups, excellent Verizon, and $14 per night with the senior discount.
How long ago were you there, Laurel? My daughter Deborah attended the blues festival there, the big one, and has some amazing memories of her beloved Memphis. Nice to have an idea of where to camp. We might put Memphis on the route east when we do finally manage our eastern route once the house sells.
Sue, we were in Memphis just before Thanksgiving. It was a great time to be there — the weather was cool and not humid. We would love to do the blues festival. Definitely put Memphis on your travel route!
Last spring we traveled the Great River Road from the headwaters in Minnesota down to New Orleans. Memphis was an unexpected highlight of the trip. The Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island was terrific, and we too loved the blues of Beale Street (they were having a tribute to BB King when we were there). We also made the pilgrimage to Graceland – yes, it was tacky, yet strangely moving.
That sounds like a wonderful trip, Janie. The Mississippi River Museum is on our list of things to do when we return. I love Elvis’ music — I might just have to get over the decor and visit Graceland. We found his home in Tupelo and the chapel there very moving, too. Thanks for commenting. :-)
Our first visit to Memphis was last year! It’s been on my list for awhile. Beale Street was a lot smaller than we expected. But we did enjoy the music. We, also, skipped Graceland…same reasons:) I think our favorite part was staying at Tom Sawyer RV Park right on the river. We spent most of our time there sitting outside watching all the barges.
Love the tent with the sir conditioner!!
Pam, we remembered the wonderful RV park you recommended — but the Mississippi was in danger of flooding when we were there. (!!) We got a good laugh out of that tent with the A/C, too. Exactly why I don’t want to be in the South in the summer.
yep, just seeing the outside of Graceland was enough for us…
That’s how we felt. But I do love his music. :-)
We are going in April, might re-think Graceland now. Looks an interesting place, great colourful photos
Memphis is a fascinating place to visit, Jane. Have fun — if you like Elvis, don’t miss Sun Studio!
Next time check out the Stax museum too. We loved it and spent the morning listening to old tunes and checking out Issac Hayes car, the organ used to record “green onions” among other artifacts. We stayed @ Tombigbee too but didn’t get to see Elvis birth place because of torrential rain and tornado warnings. BTW we just left St. George Is and are heading west
Pat, Stax sounds fabulous! Definitely on our list for next time. I hope you’ve enjoyed St. George — we’re in Central Florida and are heading back up there at the end of the week. Wish we could have met up!
We are very sorry we missed Sun Records and the Lorraine. Definitely have to return. We did do Graceland and just got into the swing of tacky. Elvis had a great voice but he was a poor boy and his family just was tacky. We actually really enjoyed it. All Elvis, All the time. Not positive I wouldn’t do it again. Although having done one of my LONG posts on it, I feel like I’ve already been twice. Thanks for the recommendations for when we can stay longer than one night. We were racing the rising Mississippi to get on the western side. They closed the highway a few hours after we crossed. LOVE the tent AC! So Elvis, so southern.
Sherry, you guys would really appreciate Sun Studio and the Civil Rights Museum. I love Elvis’ music, but prefer to think of him in his black leather jacket, not the sequined jumpsuits and capes. As you said, Graceland is the epitome of tacky, but if you enjoyed it, I probably would, too.
Looks like a great spot to camp… love the fall colors. One does need to keep an eye on that Mississippi River. She can go from drought to flood. Glad you enjoyed your visit.
It is a wonderful campground, Ingrid. Convenient, pretty, and the price was right!
Definitely have to move Memphis up the list – great pics of this legendary place. Love the Rosa Parks exhibit and Sun Studio! The iconic motel with the big classic cars….that really takes me back to childhood :-)
Jodee, I highly recommend a visit to Memphis. We’ll definitely be back. If you go, don’t miss the Civil Rights Museum and Sun Studio.
Where’s the barbecue?
Thanks for the tour, Memphis was on our list but never made it. Instead we went to Nashville.
Perhaps southerners do know how to camp in the summer heat.
ML, I knew someone was going to ask about the barbecue! We had excellent ribs from Rendevous (supposed to be one of the best in Memphis) but the only other barbecue we had was a smoked chicken from Whole Foods — I must say, it was fantastic! One more reason to return to Memphis is to try more barbecue.
My daughter visited Memphis as part of a Civil Rights tour during college and had a lot of great things to say about it. Campground looks great!
Memphis was a good surprise for us, Pam. We plan to return! Thanks for commenting. :-)
We have yet to make it to Memphis. Hopefully one day we will. The museum sounds wonderful. I am guessing there is some good barbecue to be had in that city.
LuAnn, you would really enjoy the Civil Rights Museum. It’s one of the best we’ve ever visited. As far as barbecue, we have more to try, in the interest of research, of course. :-)