In DepthBeale Street at night. The garish hues of neon-lit signs. The mouthwatering scent of barbecue. The touch of a breeze off the Mississippi. But most of all the sounds, the music. The thrum of an electric guitar, visceral drum beats, a saxophone's mellow moan.
Of course, the musical style most at home on Beale Street is the blues. Here in 1909 bandleader and classically trained musician W.C. Handy published one of the first and most popular blues songs, “The Memphis Blues.” A statue of the Father of the Blues holding his trumpet presides over Beale Street in W.C. Handy Performing Arts Park.
It's hard to believe that bustling Beale's historic buildings were virtually abandoned due to hard times in the 1960s and '70s. But thanks to a redevelopment project, the district is one of the city's most visited attractions. Blues legend B.B. King, who saw the rise, fall and rebirth of Beale Street, started here in the 1940s. His flagship club's massive guitar-shaped sign is topped by a golden crown—he was the King of the Blues after all.
Another of Memphis' musical royal family also holds court on Beale. A statue of a guitar-wielding, hip-thrusting Elvis Presley captures the King of Rock ’n’ Roll in mid-song, eyes closed, lips apart. Some credit him with not only popularizing rock music but helping to invent the genre—as an unknown 19-year-old he recorded “That's All Right” in a small Memphis studio.
Now a museum near the Beale Street Historic District, Sun Studio is hallowed ground to Elvis fans, but it's also where music legends B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis began their recording careers.
What Beale Street is to blues lovers, Graceland is to King devotees. Modest by today's standards, Elvis' home is the centerpiece of a complex covering many aspects of his life, including his military service, film career and automobile collection. Tours conclude at his gravesite after visiting rooms frozen in 1977, the year of his death.
The city's contribution to American music continues at Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum, with its comprehensive music history exhibits that trace rock 'n' roll from its rural Mississippi Delta roots through rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and soul. The name Stax comes up a lot in those exhibits, and for good reason. Stax Records developed the Southern Soul sound and was home to greats like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & the MGs. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, on the site of the old Stax Records building, is crammed with memorabilia from the golden age of Memphis soul music.
But Memphis' music heritage lives on outside museum display cases. The city celebrates blues, jazz, country, pop and bluegrass during the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival in September, while the Memphis in May International Festival, a month-long event beginning with the 3-day Beale Street Music Festival, draws thousands to outdoor stages on the banks of the Mississippi.
Also part of the Memphis in May festival is the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, which pits teams such as Natural Born Grillers, Notorious P.I.G. and Sweet Swine O' Mine against each other to win thousands of dollars. Despite the lighthearted names, barbecue in Memphis is serious business and as much a part of the culture as the blues.
Memphis-style ribs and soul-stirring blues go well together, and several Beale Street clubs serve both. But Memphis isn't all about music. It has its share of cultural institutions like the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and The National Civil Rights Museum at the former Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King's 1968 assassination, now a moving, powerful tribute to the civil rights struggles of the 20th century.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
State sales tax is 7 percent; occupancy tax is 6 percent; and Memphis sales tax is 2.25 percent, for a combined lodging tax of 15.25 percent.
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Baptist Memorial Hospital, (901) 226-5000; Delta Medical Center, (877) 627-4395; Methodist North Hospital, (901) 516-5200; Methodist South Hospital, (901) 516-3700; Regional Medical Center at Memphis, (901) 545-7100; Saint Francis Hospital, (901) 765-1000.
3205 Elvis Presley Blvd. Memphis, TN 38116. Phone:(901)543-5300 or (888)633-9099
Domestic and foreign airlines serve
Discounts are offered to AAA members by Hertz, (901) 345-5680 or (800) 654-3131.
Amtrak offers passenger service from Central Station, 545 S. Main St.; phone (901) 526-0052 or (800) 872-7245.
The Greyhound bus station is at 3033 Airways Blvd.; phone (800) 231-2222.
The major company is Yellow Cab, (901) 577-7777. Fares are metered, with the basic rate $3.80 for the first mile, then $1.80 for each additional mile. One dollar is added for each additional passenger. A $3 surcharge is added to fares originating from the airport.
Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) buses operate Mon.-Fri. 4:30 a.m.-11:15 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. and holidays 8-5. Base fare is $1.75, with increases for zones outside city limits; a day pass can be purchased for $3.50, and covers unlimited bus rides. Ages 65+, students and the physically impaired pay reduced rates with a special MATA ID card. Park 'n' Ride service is available at multiple locations within the city. Not all routes operate nights and Sundays.