Updated: Nov 17, 2019
Now, if you already haven't figured out, Memphis is huge when it comes to music and there is no better place to visit than the Sun Records Studio, where rocknroll all began.
Sun Studio is known worldwide as “The Birthplace of Rock’n’roll”. It is the discovery location of musical legends and genres of the 50’s from B.B. King and Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis; from Blues and Gospel to Country and Rock’n'roll.
You will be able to stand in the very same spot that Elvis first recorded. Your tour guide will tell you the inside stories of B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and Ike Turner, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, & Roy Orbison who were all drawn to the new Sun Sound.
You'll get to see the priceless memorabilia from the musical legends that blended blues and country music to explode in the "big bang" of Rock'n'roll. The funny and entertaining tour includes outtakes from recording sessions from early Blues to Elvis himself.
The studio is open for 45 minute guided tours every day from 10am to 6pm. The tour is $14 for adults, $12 for students and free to kids ages 5-11. Insider tip: There is free, limited parking behind the studio and the Sun Studio also operates a free shuttle service to and from Graceland, The RocknSoul Museum and of course Sun Studio. You should arrive early for your tour, to get tickets in hand, because this place can fill up quickly, especially when a bus tour arrives. Make your way into the Sun Studio Cafe (located next door) and have a seat on the iconic barstools and order up a malt milkshake. A lot of online review sites mix up this restaurant for the one at the airport (which, according to reviews should be avoided). But don't worry, this little cafe is pretty decent. While you wait for your tour time there are some artifacts on the walls, souvenirs to buy and a small old record collection to dive into and staff are friendly and attentive. You will be relieved to have a seat and cold drink when the room fills in up wall to wall.
The tour takes you upstairs and into various rooms to show artifacts and tell the story of Sun Records. It eventually ends in the Sun Records Recording Studio where the energy and vibe of that Sun Sound hits everyone. Even though the cafe is swarming with bodies, each tour only accepts a certain amount of people, so it doesn't feel overly crowded.
For more information on the tour please visit Sun Studios.
Next up, another great museum dedicated to music, hustle and talent – The Stax Museum of Soul Music. You start your tour in the true birthplace of soul music – a modest country church.
Just as Stax’s music found its roots in the sounds of Southern gospel music, the museum opens in a real, circa-1906 Mississippi Delta church that has been carefully reassembled inside the museum. As the museum tour progresses you'll find yourself in a dance hall where you are encouraged to dance and singalong.
You will move along toward a large collection of period recording equipment in the control room, then stand in Studio A, an exact replica of the legendary converted movie theater where Stax artists cut records. Next, you'll see the wall of sound – literally thousands of hit records recorded at Stax.
But there is something even more flashy just around the corner.
The Superfly! Isaac Hayes’ glittering custom Cadillac Eldorado, which was purchased as part of his renegotiated deal with Stax in 1972. The car, which was purchased for $26,000 (or, $158,000 in 2018 dollars), is fully equipped with unique amenities like a refrigerated mini-bar, television, 24-carat gold exterior trim and white fur carpeting on the floorboards. Admission is $13 and free for those under 8.
Even though Isaac Hayes could afford a six figure automobile with gold trim, the color of his skin ultimately determined his social status. Our next stop is the National Civil Rights Museum. Slavery. Separate but equal. Boycotts. Assassinations. Black power. The museum tells of the history of the uprising that pushed national and international civil rights forward. The Museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King. The museum offers 260 artifacts, more than 40 films, oral histories, interactive media and external listening posts that guide visitors through five centuries of history — from the beginning of the resistance during slavery, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, and the seminal events of the late 20th century that inspired people around the world to stand up for equality. Admission is $16 and there is parking on site. On our next episode we'll go easy on your wallet and showcase some more relaxing activities that are also good for families with younger children.
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