Memphis Music Museums: A Quick-Hit Primer

Recording Studio at Sun Studio

Sun Studio

The first reaction most people have when they take the Stun Studio tour is how modest it is. You’d think that the studio that launched Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, to name a few, would be a shrine on a scale of the careers it helped start. Fact is Sun Studios is an unassuming place. But don’t let that fool you. The building has a magical and unmistakable vibe. From the showman tour guides to the exact spots where Cash and Elvis stood and sang, Sun Studios feels like you’re stepping inside of living history. And really you are when you consider that it’s still a working studio and has recorded the likes of U2, Jacob Dylan, and Justin Townes Earle.

Insider Tip: Pair your Sun Studios experience with Backbeat Tours, a rolling concert/party bus/guided tour of important Memphis music sites and attractions.

stax museum of american soul music

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Memphis may be known for birthing rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s beating heart is the soul music that came up from the streets in South Memphis near and/or around Stax Records. Home to such legendary artists as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Carla Thomas, Stax is one of the most important labels in American history. Today, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music continues to give people a detailed and deeply soulful look at Stax through an immersive multi-media experience that includes classic audio recordings, rare film, and unique memorabilia. 

Insider Tip: Keep an eye on the events page of the Stax Museum site. They often have live music events featuring local Soul legends.

memphis rock and soul museum

Memphis Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum

Getting your head around the big picture of Memphis music is no easy task. Music historians have spent entire careers trying to do it. Thankfully, the Memphis Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum gives visitors the perfect download on the history, sound and legendary artists who helped make Memphis a global treasure. With the help of the Smithsonian Institute, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum takes people through an in-depth audio tour from the Great Migration, the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, and the emergence of soul, as well as the racial and socio-economic barriers many artists had to overcome along the way.

Insider Tip: Ask about the MP3 audio guide and map “Historic Walking Tour of Beale Street,” which is just outside the museum’s doors.

Southern Folklore

Center For Southern Folklore

Part bookstore, part gift shop, part library, part performance venue, The Center for Southern Folklore is certainly not a museum. That’s because the Center is focused on supporting the living culture of the South. To be more specific, it’s a non-profit organization that “celebrates wonders, lifestyles, people, history, art and cultures of the South.” All of which makes it a great place to stop in and expand your understanding of Memphis music and its relationship to the region and its people, not just in terms of history, but also its present currency. 

Insider Tip: Like Stax, the Center also features live performances, as well as art and photography exhibits in their Gallery and VIP Lounge areas.

Motorcyclist outside gates of Graceland

Graceland

For millions of people around the world, Graceland is the home of Elvis Presley, a place to commune with The King and pay your respects to his incredibly creative legacy. What people tend to forget is that while Elvis’s place in history stands on its own two legs, he had an incredible impact on Memphis and its music. In addition to the eccentric Jungle Room and private planes, there’s a thorough and detailed look at Elvis’ musical journey from his early days at Sun Studios to the ’68 Comeback to his light-fantastic tenure in Las Vegas.

Insider Tip: In advance of your Graceland experience, be sure to check out Elvis Radio, channel 19 SiriusXM, which broadcasts from Graceland.

elvis statue on beale street

MEMPHIS MUSIC MUSEUMS: A QUICK-HIT PRIMER

You book your flight, your hotel, maybe even a rental car for a trip to Memphis. You know you’re going to eat some good food, see some great music, and spend some time learning about arguably the most important music city in America.  But with the number of different attractions that give you a look at the history of Memphis music, you’re overwhelmed by choice. Here are a few of the must-see museums and galleries dedicated to our unique and soulful sound.

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