Follow B.B. King’s Footsteps in Memphis

Exterior of Sun Studio in Memphis

Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and more have all recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis. Photo by Brand USA

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

Withers Collection Museum Gallery is located on Beale Street in Downtown Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Backbeat Tours boarding: Backbeat Tours

Sightseers Boarding the Vintage Backbeat Tour Bus

Blues Hall of Fame Exhibit, Memphis

The Blues Hall of Fame Blues Hall of Fame honors those who have performed, recorded and significantly contributed to blues music. Photo by Lisa Mac

World Famous Beale Street Memphis Jones at BB King

Hear Memphis Jones entertain at B.B. King's on Beale Street. Photo by Craig Thompson.

B.B. King's Blues Club: Bob Hazlett

B.B. King's Blues Club on Beale Street. Photo by Bob Hazlett

B.B. King: David Jaimeson

B.B. King Sings the Blues

Riley B. King took the name the world knows him by from Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, the city he called his “adopted hometown.” But how did this sharecropper’s son – who hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck to reach Memphis from rural Mississippi – rise to the GRAMMYs, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame? Swing between these Memphis sites to follow in his footsteps:

Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum 
This Smithsonian affiliate is packed with memorabilia, including Sun Studio’s original console (the one Sam Phillips used to record King and others, from Rufus Thomas to Johnny Cash). Devote a day to the museum and its audio walking tour, a treasure of stories that’ll help you envision the Beale Street King first stepped onto in 1946. 

P.S. Across the street from the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, B.B. King Lucille model guitars are made at the Gibson Beale Street Showcase. Tour the factory and you might get a glimpse of one on the line.

Handy Park & Withers Collection
You can keep the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum audio tour all day, so take your time savoring its stories and stops, from free concerts in W.C. Handy Park, where King once soaked up the sounds of the city, to photography exhibits inside the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery. Ernest C. Withers was one of Memphis’ most prolific photographers, and his pic of two young “kings,” B.B. and Elvis Presley, is one of his most famous.

B.B. King’s Blues Club 
Continue west on Beale Street to reach B.B. King’s Blues Club, just right for lunch, dinner, drinks – and live bands. For an intimate dinner and soulful performers to match, ask about the club’s hush-hush third-floor restaurant, Itta Bena. 

Backbeat Tours
On Backbeat Tours’ Mojo bus tour, your singing, guitar-playing tour guide will point out early and lesser-known sites related to Memphis music heroes. For King, those might include the site of one of his first Memphis homes and the marker for WDIA, the country’s first African-American radio station where King worked as a disc jockey. Lucky you, Backbeat Tours’ ticket office is located inside B.B. King’s Blues Club.

Center for Southern Folklore
Spot King’s face and name in black-and-white photographic prints and vintage show bills – pitch-perfect souvenirs for true fans.

Blues Hall of Fame
After decades of recognizing pioneering artists, the Blues Foundation opened its brick-and-mortar Blues Hall of Fame in 2015, just days before King’s death. Eye the autographed Lucille guitar in the lobby; then head to the galleries, where you can view memorabilia such as King’s tour jacket and play his defining blues music using the interactive archives.

Autographed by B B King!

A photo posted by Michael G Rolfe (@michaelgrolfe) on Jun 28, 2013 at 7:07pm PDT

Sun Studio
King gets namedropped on the tour of this legendary studio, as he recorded some early blues numbers here. Bonus: From Sun Studio, cross the street to Marshall Avenue and turn right. In a short stretch, you’ll come to the B.B. King Memphis Rockwalk marker and a mural dedicated to the man – painted in shades of blue, of course.

By Samantha Crespo