At first, I was not too excited to visit Memphis. There’s no theme park there. Why would someone want to visit a place where there’s no theme park? What I found is that the history in Memphis is astonishing! Not only the history surrounding the shooting of Martin Luther King, but the music history surrounding the city with names such as Elvis Presley and BB King.
Our trip started with meeting our student group at the Rock and Soul Museum. We watched a very informative yet interesting 20 minute movie before entering the museum about the musical pioneers and legends of all racial and socio-economic backgrounds who overcame obstacles to create the musical sound that changed the world. After the movie, we were all handed audio equipment to use while browsing the museum. Throughout the museum we found juke boxes where we could put in a number and listen to some of the less-known music that was available. The students really loved listening to some of this music.
Then it was off to the Gibson Guitar Factory for a tour. Little did I know how much work and effort goes into making these musical instruments! I was very shocked to find out that every detail of the guitar is created by a person, not a machine. Sure they use machines to assist in the creation of the guitar, but just about everything that is done to the guitar is done by hand. Even the painting and finishing is done by hand. It was amazing to watch!
Following that tour, we went to visit the famous Sun Studios. I was a bit surprised at how small this studio was. However, thinking back to those times, this is all they really needed. Our guide told us stories of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others. We listened to some unusual recording sessions. We even got to take photos with the actual microphone used by Elvis Presley himself!
The next morning we went to visit Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. There we took an audio tour of the mansion just how it was when Elvis was alive. The décor of the home was stunning even know it is outdated today. During the audio tour we heard stories of Lisa Marie Presley remembering her father in certain parts of their home and in my mind I could picture the little girl running around, playing with her father. During the tour we also got to see the resting place of Elvis. Once you reach that point, you can feel the sadness around you. Elvis is buried next to his parents. I was surprised to learn that Elvis had a twin brother who was stillborn, Jesse Garon. His grave marker is also at this site.
Across the road, we entered the automobile museum and got a tour of two of Elvis’ airplanes. Developers are also building a “Heartbreak Hotel” just behind it. Time did not allow us to explore the hotel.
Next it was off to Stax Museum, located at the original site of Stax Records, I was wowed by the many artful, historic and cultural, interactive exhibits. We learned about the heritage of American soul music as it relates to the Memphis sound and its influences internationally. And for fun they feature a unique dress-up, instant photo booth that super-imposes guest images at several locations throughout the museum, including the Stax Museum's world famous marquee.
Now is where the tour struck my heartstrings. We went to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorriane Hotel. The museum had recently re-opened after some major renovations. As you are walking through the museum, you will find mini-movies showing real clips of news stories from those days. The lifelike sculptures of the people as you are walking through are breathtaking. You can see the fear and determination on their faces. As you arrive at the actual bus that was burned while the Freedom Riders were on their quest for equality, and you watch the short movie clip about this experience, you can feel the sadness in the room. Finally you reach the room where Martin Luther King was staying when he was shot. The room was reconstructed to show exactly how the room looked that day. A large wreath is hung on the balcony where he was shot. Across the street, you can get a view of the room from where the shot was taken. I could have spent many more hours in this museum.
Some of the other areas we visited in Memphis were Beale Street, where you can find inlaid gold music notes on the sidewalk of many of the great musicians from Memphis. Also on Beale Street we visited BB Kings Restaurant, the Hard Rock Café, and Blues City Café. As you walk along the street, you can hear the local Jazz and Blues Bands trying to make a name for themselves playing in the park or in one of the venues. Many of which had CD’s available for you to purchase to help them succeed.
In conclusion, Memphis ended up to be one of my favorite places to visit. It was also the favorite for the majority of the students that took this trip with us. They were enthralled by the music history and civil rights history that this town had to offer. I would highly recommend this trip!