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Tennessee: Memphis

Day 1:

GRACELAND

Of course one of the things we had to see while we are in Memphis was Elvis’ Graceland Estate. We got there early to avoid the crowds but we are also out of season so it was not too bad. Before heading around the mansion we looked at the exhibit of Elvis’ stage outfits – the dozens of jumpsuits he had specially made for his performances through the 1970s, and his personal aircraft including a Convair 880, which was named Lisa Marie after his daughter. Around $1 million was spent furnishing this aircraft, including such luxuries as gold plating on the buckles of the seat belts and bathroom fittings.

Elvis bought Graceland when he was 22 years old for $100,000 and it was his home until his death in 1977. The tour of the mansion is self-guided with headsets providing the tour. You travel through the lower floor rooms including the living room, dining room kitchen and personal rooms in the basement. Considering the obvious wealth of Elvis, Graceland is a relatively modest home in terms of its size and since it has not been lived since his death it is trapped in the 1970s time warp in terms of design – with such oddities as fur-covered furniture. Other rooms have been added to the property to exhibit Elvis memorabilia including his collection of gold, silver and platinum discs, his military uniforms and personal items of his, Priscilla and Lisa Marie. Although Jack and Emily never really knew Elvis they really enjoyed the tour of the mansion and grounds. The last thing on this part of the tour is the part of the grounds in which Elvis, his mother, father and grandmother are buried. Elvis’s grandmother was 90 years old when she died and lived to see the passing of her grandson and son, which is always a sad thing to see. We, particular myself and Karen were saddened by this as we had grown up with the legend of Elvis. Karen was even more concerned to see that the flowers that marked his grave were plastic!

To finish off the day we went around a collection of Elvis’ many cars and motorbikes, including the famous pink Cadillac. Boys with toys!!

It took us half a day to explore Graceland. We also made sure we arrived first thing to beat the crowds.

 

Location:Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116
Telephone:T: (901) 332-3322
Website:https://www.graceland.com/
Hours:Open Daily: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, except:
Thurs., Nov. 24: CLOSED (Thanksgiving Day; no walk-ups)
Sat., Dec. 24: 9:00 am – 2:00 pm (Christmas Eve)
Sun., Dec. 25: CLOSED (Christmas Day; no walk-ups)
Admission:

Elvis Experience Tour: Adults $77, Youths (5 -10) $44

Elvis Presley’s Memphis & Plane Tour (does not include the mansion): Adults $48, Youths $27

 

BEALE STREET & ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SOUL MUSEUM

Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, is one of the most iconic streets in America. It is three blocks of nightclubs, restaurants and shops in the heart of downtown Memphis, and a melting pot of delta blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and gospel. This National Historic Landmark district shares its rich history of legendary live music (think Memphis Minnie, B.B. King and Rufus Thomas, to start) through museums, photo ops and clubs where you can still hear who’s making music in Memphis today. With cold beer and hot music, Beale Street is one of the coolest places in Memphis.

The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum’s exhibition about the birth of rock and soul music involves much more than guitars and drumsticks. It tells the complete Memphis music story, showcasing the story of musical pioneers who, for the love of music, overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the music that shook and shaped the entire world. The museum’s exhibit was researched and developed by the world-famous Smithsonian Institution, tracing the origins of America’s musical genres of rock ‘n’ roll and soul music. Performing Songwriter Magazine wrote that it “may be the single best exhibition of American musical history in the country.” The museum has also been recognized as one of Globus’ “American Icons,” joining such prestigious destinations as George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Alaska’s Denali National park, and others.

The museum offers a comprehensive Memphis music experience from the rural field hollers and sharecroppers of the 1930s, through the explosion of Sun, Stax and Hi Records and Memphis’ musical heyday in the 70s, to its global musical influence. The museum also administers and houses the prestigious Memphis Music Hall of Fame, which pays tributes to many of the greatest musicians of all time, all of whom helped place Memphis, Tennessee on the world map. You’ll rock with the likes of Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, Sam & Dave, Al Green, The BarKays, Booker T. and the MGs, and others. The museum’s self-guided digital audio tour is packed with over 300 minutes of information researched by the Smithsonian Institution, including over 100 songs, and takes visitors at their own pace through the ultimate Memphis music pilgrimage, including seven galleries featuring 3 audiovisual programs, more than 30 instruments, 40 costumes and other musical treasures, including original sound consoles from legendary Sun Records and Ardent Studios. 

Location:191 Beale Street, Suite 100, Memphis, Tennessee.
Telephone:T: (901) 205-2533
Website:https://www.memphisrocknsoul.org/
Hours:Open every Wednesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Admission:

Adults – $13
Youth Age 5-17 – $10
Kids 4 and Under – Free

Day 2:

SUN STUDIO

It has been said that “If music was a religion, then Memphis would be Jerusalem and Sun Studio its most holy shrine.”

In 1954, an unknown Elvis Presley grabbed a mic and sang his heart out making Sun the most famous recording studio in the world. Take a guided tour through the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll where you will experience outtakes from recording sessions, touch Elvis’ first microphone and hear the real story of the studio that launched the careers of not only Elvis Presley, but Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, and many others that signed with the Sun label.

Sam Phillips opened Sun Studio in 1950 with the goal of capturing the pure, raw energy of Beale Street. It produced the first rock ‘n’ roll single: Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats’ version of “Rocket 88” in 1951 and continues as an active recording business for many notable artists including U2, Def Leppard, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Paul Simon, Margo Price and many more.

Tours are given at the bottom half of every hour.

Location:706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Telephone:T: (901) 521-0664
Website:https://www.sunstudio.com/
Hours:

Sun Studio is open 7 days a week

Sunday – Thursday 10am – 5:15PM

Friday & Saturday 10am – 6:15pm

Tours begin at the bottom half of every hour from 10:30 – 4:30 and 10:30 – 5:30 on Friday and Saturday. Tour tickets are available first-come, first-served.

Admission:

Adult tickets: $15

Children 5-11: $10

STAX MUSEUM OF AMERICAN SOUL MUSIC

The STAX museum covers the development of Soul Music and is found south of Memphis’ downtown on the site of the old STAX recording studio. The museum generally covers the history of soul music but inevitably focuses on the STAX record label which was a leading light in the soul music scene in the 1960s and early 1970s with artists such as Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs and Isaac Hayes. Jack and Emily were a little bored by this as they had not heard of any of these strange people but for the parents this was wonderful nostalgia. On leaving the museum we turned down some of the side streets trying to find the birth home of Aretha Franklin you get a real sense of this neighbourhood which is very poor and depressed. Guess these are the conditions that breed great soul and blues artists – still sad to see.

Location:926 E. McLemore Ave
Memphis, TN 38106
Telephone:T: (901) 261-6338
Website:https://staxmuseum.com/
Hours:

Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 5 pm (closed Mondays)

Admission:

$13 Adults
$12 Seniors 62+, Active Military, and Students with ID
$10 Children (Ages 9-12)
Free Members, Children (8 and under)

Day 3:

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF CIVIL RIGHTS

Our plan for today was to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in downtown Memphis. This museum is built around the old Lorraine Hotel in Memphis which is poignant as this is the hotel on which balcony Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As you round the corner you see the frontage of the hotel which seems to me most familiar having seen this numerous times in photographs and film footage. The outside of the building of the hotel displays a wreath which has been a permanent presence since the assassination. Inside the museum follows the trail of the civil rights movement in the US from the time of slavery, introducing the main protagonists in the movement – including John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln and Booker T Washington. Through this period Black people got equality, at least on paper, through the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments but in reality there was little equality, particularly in the Southern States. There was still segregation in schools, public transport, restaurants, public places and even things like drinking fountains were segregated. The museum’s main exhibits focus on the seminal moments in the civil rights movement of the 20th century that started to break down segregation and introduce equal rights. Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education and the nine students at Little Rock started to break down segregation in schools, numerous sit-ins in segregated restaurants and the Montgomery bus protests focusing on segregated transport started to attack the systematic discrimination against Black people. Following on from these events activists like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X started to build upon this momentum and mobilised more people into action. The museum has some large exhibits such as the Montgomery bus that succinctly depicts the unfairness of the segregation on public transport and how the actions of Rosa Parks changed this. The final exhibit on the main site takes you into rooms 306 and 307 of the Lorraine hotel which have been reconstructed to be as they were on April 4th 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated. You can look out on the balcony where he fell, the blood stained section of concrete has been removed but you can see where it sat. This was a moving experience for all of us Hoblets.

After this we moved across to another building on the opposite side of the road, where there are other exhibits. This is the former guest house from which the deadly shot was fired, again they have recreated the seedy bathroom from forensic photographs and you can see the view that the assassin would have had of the Lorraine Hotel’s balcony. In this section they present the story around the assassination including profiles of James Earl Ray, the convicted felon, the physical evidence and the various conspiracy theories. All very interesting.

Location:9450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103
Telephone:T: (901) 521-9699
Website:https://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/
Hours:

Thursday through Monday 9 am to 5 pm (closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays)

Admission:

Adults $18.00
Seniors 55+, College Students w/ID $16.00
Children ages 5-17 $15.00
4 & under Free

Best time to visit Memphis

The best times to visit Memphis are April and May or October and November. These short seasons are brief reliefs from the uncomfortable (and long) summer and winter seasons. Average summer highs often climb above 90 degrees with high humidity. However, the summer remains Memphis’ peak tourism season because of school vacations.

Where to stay in Memphis

1. BIG CYPRUS LODGE (5-STAR)

Located within the iconic Memphis Pyramid, Big Cypress Lodge features accommodations with a 24-hour fitness centre, private parking and a terrace. Located around 1.6 mi from Orpheum Theater, the resort with free WiFi is also 1.6 mi away from AutoZone Park. Guests can grab a bite to eat in either of the 2 on-site restaurant or relax in the bar.

All guest rooms at the resort are equipped with a seating area and a flat-screen TV. The rooms include a private bathroom with a bath. The rooms at Big Cypress Lodge include air conditioning and a desk.

With views overlooking downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River, the property offers a 13 lane bowling alley. A business centre and vending machines with drinks are available on-site at the accommodations. The reception can provide advice on the area in order to help guests plan their day.

2. MOXY MEMPHIS DOWNTOWN

Less than a mile away from the FedEx Forum, Orpheum Theater and Beale Street, this hotel is located in the heart of downtown Memphis and offers comfortable guest rooms with free WiFi.

Every room at Moxy Memphis Downtown provides a flat-screen TV. En-room bathrooms feature a hairdryer and complimentary bath amenities.

Guests can work out in the fitness centre or utilize the on-site business centre, which offers guest copy services. The hotel conference room can accommodate up to 14 people and features a large flat-screen TV.

3. THE JAMES LEIGN HOUSE (5-STAR)

The James Lee House is an internationally acclaimed Boutique Bed and Breakfast located in the heart of Memphis, Tennessee. Gorgeous architectural features, treasured antiques, a rich heritage of art, music, and literature await you. Spend your nights in the elegance of refined Victorian splendour, resting in the harmonious balance of authenticity and contemporary comfort.

The five meticulously appointed suites are thoughtfully and handsomely decorated to make your stay truly unforgettable.

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