According to Sarah Baker of The Daily News, Memphis music and culture captured the spotlight internationally last year, and its fame is growing (“International Exposure”). Through a fortuitous travel layover, last fall found me overnighting in Memphis, Tennessee and lingering a day or so. What I found there felt like a tourist mecca, deservingly.
One of the most popular highways crossing Tennessee is Interstate 40, also known as Music Highway. This scenic route takes you right into downtown Memphis. Characteristic of me, my first stop was actually at the Chucalissa Museum at the Historic State Park. Here, I discovered that that the name "Memphis" comes from the rising platform mounds which the Mississippian Natives built.
Road to Chucalissa
Memphis, the “Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” had much more than the wayside traveler could possibly do in 72 hours. There was Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the Pink Palace, and Mud Island--each of which could fill up an afternoon.
However, upon the advice of friends, I found myself in old town Memphis. Near the Convention Center one can board the old-fashioned trolley with stops including the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, and National Civil Rights Museum (built against Lorraine Motel).
National Civil Rights Museum
The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum offers a comprehensive overview of pioneers in the rhythm and blues recording industry and originators of the eclectic Memphis Sound. There are lots of memorabilia on display, and the MP3 audio-guided tour includes tasty musical sound bites.
Rock 'n' Soul Museum: discover Sun Records, Women DJs, and Gospel
One unexpected surprise for me was the Belz (aka Peabody Place) Museum of Memphis. Developed through the acquisitions of Jack and Marilyn Belz, this museum offers a distinctive collection of Luohan Buddhist Jades, and world-class Judaic Art sculptures and paintings. These divine inspirations date from the Qing dynasty.
Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art
For food connoisseurs, Main Street has many offerings, but it can’t stand to sizzle with Beale Street after sun down! For romantics, there are even horse-drawn carriages trotting along Main Street during the evenings, and also taxis awaiting the late night partiers. The spontaneous blues jams, arts and crafts booths, record stores, and street party are pretty much open to the public. Here’s a pic from listening to a great blues concert by Kokomojo playing at Handy Park.
Kokomojo Playing at Handy Park near Beale Street
All in all, my stay in this charming region was tinctured with hospitality; I wanted to visit the Stax Museum, Elmwood Cemetery, and also the archeological mounds. In “International Exposure,” Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO Kevin Kane stated, “There is a very positive allure of being from Memphis and having that Memphis connection. We basically export it to the rest of the world.” Whether it’s exporting culture or entertaining visitors, Memphis is quite the model of creativity and dynamic business opportunity.
Baker, Sarah. "International Exposure." The Daily News. 25 Oct. 2012.
Photos and travel article prepared by chriswong (blu-geese.org)