I was excited to travel to Memphis, Tennessee, whose renown as a musical city appealed to me — and as the city is situated just north of Mississippi and the Deep South, I also welcomed the chance to travel away from the East Coast and head southwest into the warmer climate.
On my travels, I took the four-hour greyhound bus from Nashville to Memphis — it was $14, which I thought was really good value and it was particularly scenic, especially when we crossed over a bridge on the Tennessee River on Interstate 40. The next day I took a bus to downtown Memphis over the Hernando do Soto Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River, with fantastic views of the city. I hoped that Memphis would be an entertaining and lively city, which would be easy to navigate.
I was eager to visit the Rock N’ Soul Museum, and learn about Memphis’ musical heritage in the downtown and historic area of the city. I highly recommend a visit to the museum. The admission fee is $12, which includes a self-guided audio tour. The museum has many interactive exhibits where visitors can listen to Rock ‘n’ Roll and American soul music from the 1930s-1960s, and learn about the social and cultural transformations that took place in Memphis during this period. Beale Street, in the centre of downtown and historic Memphis — a two minute walk from the museum — is where performers like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley; prominent blues performer, BB King; and jazz legend, Louis Armstrong, recorded their records and performed.
On Beale Street, I had a sumptuous BBQ pork spicy sandwich and chips (crisps) at the Rum Boogie café. The café has a nice atmosphere, with guitars lining the walls and hanging from the ceilings, and the Rum Boogie logo lit up by neon lights. Music reverberated around the fairly small, welcoming and reasonably-priced café. At night, the Rum Boogie café, like many restaurants on Beale Street, has live blues performers, creating a brilliant, packed atmosphere.
The next day, it was pouring with rain which made me miss the sunshine of the day before. Fortunately, however, there is the National Civil Rights Museum, another cultural exhibit I wanted to visit, and I was amazed by its size. Sadly, like many museums in the United States, there is a metal detector upon entry. The admission fee is $14 for students, though it’s only $1 more for adults. The museum begins with the history of the slave trade and continued the story right through to the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. It was not until right at the end that I realised that the museum has preserved the balcony where Martin Luther King had been shot, as well as the Lorraine Motel room he stayed in during April 1968.
Throughout my walk back to my hotel, artwork lined the streets, and I got a sense of how Memphis had been shaped by its musicians, artists and the social, cultural and political transformations during and after the civil rights movement. Despite Memphis’s relatively small size, the city, especially Beale Street, is very aesthetically appealing. Memphis was a very enjoyable experience in sunshine and rain, with a relaxed musical vibe, whose spicy foods, live musical performances and cultural exhibits make it well worth a trip.