While in Memphis in October of 2020 we were lucky enough to visit a few places related to Elvis Presley such as Graceland and Sun Studio. While doing research for our trip I found a deal from a combo ticket package that included those attractions as well as the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum. Memphis is all about music so I was so happy and looking forward to visiting this museum while in the area. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was quite surprised during our visit.
We made our way in and found out a little bit about the museum before we even took our tour. This rock ‘n’ soul museum was the “firstborn” of the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution and was developed by the National Museum of American History (NMAH) to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution. It is located on Beale Street on the corner of Legendary Highway 61, first opened on April 29, 2000, and has since welcomed over 1,000,000 visitors from all over the world.
As such, this museum tells the critical story of the musical pioneers who overcame racial and socio-economic obstacles to create music that changed the cultural complexion of the world. The museum offers a comprehensive Memphis music experience by highlighting the urban influences of Beale Street in the 1940s, radio, Sun Records, and Sam Phillips in the 1950s. They also share stories of the heyday of Stax, Hi Records, and soul music in the 1960s and 1970s, the impact of the civil rights movement, and the music’s influence and inspiration that continues today. Below are some of the exhibits we saw while exploring the museum.
Music echoed and led the rhythms of work, lent comfort, and embodied hopes and dreams in the Mississippi Delta. Many rural refugees who found a home in Memphis sowed the seeds of what would become, by mid-century, a musical and cultural revolution. In this section of the museum, they show how these musical icons dirtied their hands in the fields long before the studios.
As you can imagine, blues, country, and gospel thrived in the Delta and many musical genres unexpectedly came together to start a musical revolution. These included ballads as well as gospel hymns. , It is said and known that many people produced their own music, exchanging techniques, lyrics, and melodies among races and classes.
Coming to Memphis
While the city of Memphis was still segregated through the 1950s, the music of Memphis crossed the color line. While Memphis was socially segregated, airwaves, recordings, and live performances brought the city’s music to its people – black and white.
Sun Records & Youth Culture
In July 1954, Phillips recorded Elvis Presley which redefined the national and international music scenes. By 1955, rock ‘n’ roll was a national phenomenon. Young people started claiming it as a culture all their own and thus reflected this energy in their own dress and language.
Labels like STAX, HI, and Satellite recruited musical artists from the black community, and some of its stars literally walked in off the streets. Memphis music was a product of collaboration – and sometimes tension – between black and white musicians. Soul music embodied African-American cultural identity and aspirations in the volatile 1960s and became an important voice for expressing black pride, and demanding political change. Just as white teenagers expressed themselves through their speech, dress, and rock ‘n’ roll, soul music was a part of a larger identity for African-Americans. Soul music changed from popular entertainment to a vehicle for political expression and community activism.
One other thing I wanted to share about the museum was the museum’s HUGE MP3 audio guide packed with over 300 minutes of information as well as over 100 songs recorded in and around Memphis from the 1930’s to 1970s. The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum also features three audio-visual programs, more than 30 instruments, and 40 costumes in seven galleries.
There was definitely a lot of history packed into this little museum and A LOT of music. J You will definitely learn a lot about how music has impacted Memphis and how it impacted both Rock and Soul music. Even if you are not a huge fan of certain artists, you will appreciate all the talent that they share in the museum. Here is a link to their website if you are planning your own visit.
Memphis Rock n Soul Museum Visitor Information
191 Beale St. Memphis, TN 38103
Daily 10 am – 5 pm
Rock N Soul Museum Only
Adults – $13
Youth Age 5-17 – $10
Kids 4 and Under – Free
Includes admission to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame Museum at Beale Street and Second Street, available for $18 per person.
The “Backstage Pass” can be purchased at the front desk of Rock ‘n’ Soul for $89 each. Each pass includes:
One youth or adult admission to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum (Beale & Third Street at FedExForum)
One youth or adult admission to Sun Studio (706 Union Avenue)
One youth or adult admission to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (926 E. McLemore)
One adult Elvis Experience Tour at Graceland
Your four admissions do not have to be used on the same day, or even on consecutive days. Your “Backstage Pass” is good for one year from the date of purchase.
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