The Music Museums of Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis is a must-visit destination for the music lover
Memphis is a must-visit destination for the music lover | © BHammond / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Claudia Glover
7 July 2020

Music is the heart of Memphis, and its rich history plays out through the places that put it on the map. Think Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland; Sun Studio – which is officially the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll; and Satellite Records, which signed Tina Turner. All these places have been preserved just as they were for posterity, making Memphis the mecca of the music tourist. Here, Culture Trip lists the best museums to visit.

The Rock and Soul Museum

Museum
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The Rock and Soul Museum is, well, the soul of Memphis. Situated on Beale on the corner of Highway 61, the museum was created by the Smithsonian Institution. Visitors are given a full breakdown of the history, from the field hollers and sharecroppers of the 1930s right through to Memphis’s musical heyday in the ’70s. It also highlights the racial and socio-economic barriers faced by many performers.

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Museum
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Founded by the iconic Satellite Records, the Stax Museum should not be missed. The label has released records by the likes of Tina Turner, Booker T and the MGs, and Otis Redding. The shop itself was often regarded as a second home to the artists under the label. Exhibits include Isaac Hayes’s car and Tina Turner’s iconic and very tiny gold sequined dress. It’s just on the corner of the Medical District, and the 57 bus takes you there.

Sun Studio

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Birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and home to the “Million Dollar Quartet,” this is a must-see for any music lover’s itinerary. Sun Studio was the first label to record stars like Elvis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, and the walls of the building are littered with memories of these legends. The musical energy is palpable, and you can stand in the very spot that Elvis first recorded. It’s also a sort-of mecca for modern artists, with Def Leppard and U2 all heading to the studio to record their music. It’s in the middle of the Medical District and around the corner from Beale Street.

BB King’s Blues Club

Bar, Restaurant, South American, $$$
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It might not be a traditional museum, but this is the place where Beale Street developer John Elkington first recruited B.B. King to open the original blues club. It also serves the best ribs in town. They’re legendary, much like King himself. You can also listen to live bands while enjoying your food with a few drinks. It’s definitely worth the small fee to get inside.

Graceland

Building
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Home of Elvis Presley, need we say more. This sprawling estate is full of relics that will turn any fanatic’s head. It’s so good that if you aren’t a fan on arrival, you’ll definitely be one when you leave. Still owned by his daughter Lisa Marie Presley, a part of the grounds has been turned into a museum. From his outfits, guitars, cars and rings, you’ll be blown away by what you see.

The Blues Hall of Fame

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If you’re a serious blues fan, then this is the place for you. Think Koko Taylor’s dress, Otis Spann’s piano and Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica. Yes, it’s all kept here. The Blues Foundation started its archives in 1980 but didn’t actually open the building until 2015, and since then it’s been one of the best attractions for those keen to learn more. There are 10 individual galleries and interactive touchscreens to help take you through the history of the blues.
These recommendations were updated on July 7, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.