Of Music, Kings and Cotton: Memphis Rocks History

Memphis might well be what one would consider a master's class in history. From the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, from the birth of the blues and rock to the death of the King, the city's past is full of lore and legend, tragedy and triumph.

Much of the city's history happened along the banks of the Mississippi River; the Big Muddy was a trading route, the route to freedom, to enslavement, and to prosperity, depending on which century or decade one examines. Much of this history is told downtown, at the Mud Island complex, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the museum at the Cotton Exchange. Beale Street was once the epicenter of African American business in Memphis, and soon became the focal point for the blues - which influenced other hometown musicians, most notably Elvis Presley. His story, and that of others influenced by the blues, is told at Graceland, Stax and Sun Studio. And great stories of prosperity are found in some of the city's grandest old homes - the Woodruff-Fontaine House and the Pink Palace.

Today's Memphis has been shaped greatly by its past - and starting a tour of the city with a visit to its historic sites is the best way to get a feel for the birthplace of the blues and rock - and the city that's still the King of Cotton.



Once the center of black-owned businesses and nightclubs, Beale became the home of the blues at the turn of the 20th century - a waypoint along the trail from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. W.C. Handy lived - and performed - here, and...  Read More



Occupying a pink marble mansion that was originally the home Clarence Saunders, founder of the Piggly Wiggle grocery store chain, the Pink Palace is a mix of museum and historic site. The museum boasts a fascinating collection Saunders' own art...  Read More

Chucalissa Archaeological Museum


Chucalissa is Choctaw for "abandoned house," and at this museum visitors can see reconstructed houses dating from the 15th century AD - but the real attraction is the live archeological site, used as a lab for training archaeologists as well as...  Read More

Graceland Area


Graceland is the second most visited historic home in the United States, hosting more than 600,000 visitors who come to pay homage to the King. How long one spends at Graceland really depends on one's level of interest in Elvis – you can make...  Read More



Sun Studio is a tiny spot - but really, really big events in the history of music happened here. The most famous of all, of course, was Elvis Presley recording 'That's Alright, Mama' in 1954; within a year, he was a superstar and the Sun...  Read More



Memphis is still the largest spot cotton market in the world - although you will no longer find trucks filled with the just-harvested fluffy white bolls in downtown Memphis any longer. (Remember Tom Cruise jumping onto just such a truck in the...  Read More



Mud Island is reached by an aerial tram (you may remember it from the Tom Cruise movie, The Firm) and features a to-scale model of the Mississippit River that one can walk along, noting the changing conditions of the river. The Mississippi...  Read More

National Civil Rights Museum


One of the most emotionally moving museums in America, the National Civil Rights Museum chronicles the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike – right in the very building where King was...  Read More



Built in 1833, the Magevney home is one of the city's oldest homes, and the only structure still standing from Memphis' pioneering days. It was bought in 1827 by Irish immigrant Eugene Magevney In the shadow of the grand St. Peter's Catholic...  Read More

Victorian Village


Victorian Village was the city's original affluent neighborhood, and just a few of its original Victorian homes remain today. Near Main Street, this quiet residential area offers glimpses into lovely homes with exquisite French Second Empire and...  Read More


Meet Sally Walker Davies

Sally Walker Davies is enchanted by Memphis' music, history, and characters. From the artsy South Main Historic District to the grittiness of her favorite live music clubs to the sophisticated...  More About Sally