Exploring the Musical Heritage of Memphis, Tennessee

Advisor - Molly Brown
Curated By

Molly Brown

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  • USA

  • Tennessee

  • Memphis

  • Arts & Culture

  • City Travel

  • Domestic Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • Downtown

  • Hidden Gem

  • Entertainment

Bridge in Memphis Tennessee with orange sunset in the sky
Curator’s statement

Memphis is internationally known as the “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll,” but many people overlook its influence on the gospel, jazz, R&B, rap and soul, which also have deep ties to the city. You can feel Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Project Pat, Memphis Slim, and BB King as you stroll around downtown and down Beale Street. The second you step out onto the streets of Memphis, you won't be able to help but break out into an enormous smile. Its rich culture, love for music and soul food make you want to sing “Walking in Memphis” (as you should!)

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Insider knowledge

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Where to stay in Memphis, Tennessee

The Peabody Memphis

This Memphis icon (from the Blues era) stays true to its roots, with six dining options and a rooftop with panoramic views.

The James Lee House

A historic southern farmhouse in Memphis reimagined as a B&B.

Things to do in Memphis, Tennessee

Street way in Memphis, Tennessee lined with colorful neon signs

When in Memphis, focus on the musical heritage of this incredible city. The following are some of the absolute musts to stop by, visit, dance, sing, drink and eat at — because that’s precisely what you should be doing in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Wild Bills 

Wild Bill’s is the quintessential juke joint in the Vollintine Evergreen Distinct. It is a small, intimate, open kitchen serving chicken wings and ice-cold beer (you can bring your own spirits for a small fee.) Wild Bills is as authentic as it gets, playing traditional blues in an unstuffy dive bar atmosphere. In addition, the joint serves as a Delta Blues museum during the day.

Beale Street 

For a real Beale Street experience, head for Rum Boogie Café and Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall. These interconnected bars are two of the oldest juke joints in Memphis, where you’ll find artwork of iconic musicians all over the walls, a blues performer every night, and Cajun barbecue served until late. 

Paula & Raiford’s Disco

Raiford’s is a legendary two-story downtown nightclub renowned for its mixed crowd, handprints, fog machines, disco balls and lights on the wall. It’s a loud, sweaty, thumping and fantastic time. The disco has always been staffed by members of the Raiford family: aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.

National Civil Rights Museum 

The National Civil Rights Museum should not be skipped on any trip to Memphis. It is located at the historic Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The museum provides a powerful and comprehensive overview of the American Civil Rights Movement from slavery to the present. The Museum is steadfast in its mission to chronicle the American civil rights movement, examine today's global civil and human rights issues, provoke thoughtful debate and serve as a catalyst for positive social change. Through its interactive and immersive historical and contemporary exhibits, the museum examines civil and human rights issues from both then and now.

A note from Molly

Day Trip

Shelby Farms Park one of the largest urban parks in the country, located just 30 minutes outside of downtown Memphis. The park is both a vibrant community hub and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life. It features more than 40 miles of paved and unpaved trails popular for walking, biking, running and hiking. The park's trail network includes Shelby Farms Greenline, an iconic 10.65-mile paved cycling and pedestrian trail that connects the heart of Memphis to the heart of Cordova through Shelby Farms Park. 

Eat & drink in Memphis, Tennessee

Neon street sign says "Put Some South in Your Mouth!"

The Second Line: A Cajun joint with attitude as evidenced by the general ambiance and some menu items, such as fancy-ass coleslaw. The Second Line doesn't believe in reservations, so that the wait can be up to two hours on a weekend night, but nobody seems to care. Cozy up to the bar and wait in anticipation for Creole delights like fried gulf shrimp or the fried Mississippi catfish. Don't pass on the barbecued-shrimp starter. 

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous: Memphis is the pork barbecue mecca of the world. For over 70 years, the Vergos family has been serving their signature dry rub ribs in a basement through a downtown alley across from the Peabody Hotel.

Bardog Tavern: A neighborhood establishment in the heart of downtown Memphis that has excellent food, a late-night kitchen and lots of fun per minute fueled by a hot jukebox and cold drinks.