Memphis Places and Faces that Influenced Rock ’n’ Roll

Memphis Places and Faces that Influenced Rock ’n’ Roll

It all started when a young man named Elvis Presley grabbed a mic and recorded his first single "That’s All Right" marking the birth of rock 'n' roll. Chase the legends at Sun Studio, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Graceland and Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. Get deep into the backstory of the places and faces in Memphis that helped create and influence this new genre of music. Welcome home, music-lover. 


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Rum Boogie

Beale Street - Home of the Blues

In 1899, Robert Church gave musicians a place to gather at the corner of 4th and Beale, (Church Park) where folks would unite and listen to music. 

In the early 1900’s, W. C. Handy (Father of the Blues) made his mark on Memphis and Beale by creating hit songs like “Blues on Beale Street”. From the 1920s to the 1940s, he influenced other blues and jazz legends like Albert King, Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King who all performed Memphis-style Blues on Beale. 

Rock 'n' Roll

"The blues had a baby and they named it rock ’n’ roll." 

Blues music quickly gained attention across America. Once the blues went nationwide, other musicians remixed the blues style, rhythm, and techniques to create a form of music we know today as rock 'n' roll. That’s where a delivery truck driver named Elvis Presley comes into the picture. 

Recording Studio at Sun, Memphis TN

Sun Studio - Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll

On July 5, 1954, Elvis Presley had a jam session at Sun Studio with musicians, Scotty Moore and Bill Black to convince studio owner, Sam Phillips, that he was worthy of a major recording contract. Elvis began experimenting with Arthur Crudup’s song, “That’s All Right,” doubling the original tempo. Phillips’ ears perked up. He heard something that night that would change the history of music forever. That was the day that rock ‘n’ roll was born.

45 Record. Photo Credit: iStock

Dewey Phillips - Red, Hot & Blue

Dewey Phillips, a young, brash DJ at Memphis station WHBQ, helped spread rock ’n’ roll to the teens who tuned in to his Red, Hot & Blue program. Broadcasting from downtown’s Chisca Hotel, Phillips became the first deejay to play an Elvis Presley record on July 8, 1954. In fact, Dewey played the record nearly ten times in a row that night. The switchboard lit up, rock ’n’ roll was born, and music changed forever. 

Levitt Shell

Levitt Shell - 50 Free Concerts

The Levitt Shell is located in the beautiful and expansive Overton Park in Midtown Memphis. On July 30, 1954, Elvis Presley opened for headliner Slim Whitman at the Shell. Elvis stole the show in what music historians call the first-ever rock ’n’ roll show.

Today, the Levitt Shell presents 50 free concerts every year, with performances by nationally and internationally touring musicians from all over the world. Who knows, maybe the next genre of music will ignite at this intimate outdoor amphitheater.


Graceland - Home of Elvis Presley

After a series of singles for Sun, regional tours and appearances on The Grand Ole Opry and The Louisiana Hayride radio show, Elvis signed a recording contract with RCA. The marketing machine at RCA would turn Presley into a superstar.
In 1957, Elvis (age 22) took the proceeds from his first hit – Heartbreak Hotel – and purchased Graceland, a Southern-style Colonial mansion that sits on 13.8 acres for $102,000.

Plan your trip to Graceland.

stax museum of american soul music

Stax Museum of American Soul Music - That Memphis Sound

Meanwhile, a group of talented musicians, musicians were doing their own thing on McLemore Avenue. The legend of Stax Records often begins and ends with Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MGs. The majority of songs the label produced were written almost entirely by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Before either became solo stars, this duo wrote songs like “Soul Man” that helped Stax develop a sound authentic to Memphis. 

Visit Stax Museum today.

Sun Studio Exhibit at Rock n Soul Museum

Memphis Rock 'n' Soul

The blues and rock ‘n’ roll were more than a good time. They’re also the context for our city. The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum gives you the full history of Memphis music. 

See the explosion of Sun, Stax and Hi Records, Memphis’ musical heyday in the 70s, and its global musical influence. The self-paced audio tour guide is packed with over 100 songs and takes you through seven galleries featuring 3 audio visual programs, 30+ instruments, 40 costumes and other treasures.

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