In my last blog, I talked about the King of Memphis: Elvis Presley. Actually there were two Kings here. Martin Luther King was the second and probably the most influential. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which includes the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated. The museum was crowded on a warm Saturday afternoon so the tour was a slow shuffle past the many exhibits detailing the rise of civil rights from the Civil War through Reconstruction through Jim Crow through the Vietnam era. The displays are gruesome, saddening, sometimes provocative. As an old white guy from a mostly white suburb in Minnesota, I can only imagine what all of the Southern black people around us are feeling.
Our next trip downtown brought us to the Rock and Soul Museum. This was a fun museum! The audio tour led us through the early days of soul music; workers singing in the fields, gospel singers in church. Then the start of radio led to recording studios that recorded the singers and musicians that were the roots of American music. Country, soul, rock, rockabilly, blues. At several points of the tour, we were presented with the jukeboxes of the era and a list of the songs from that era we could listen to through our headphones. At each jukebox, the songs got more familiar to us Boomers. If you grew up in the 50’s or 60s, this is a great place to visit!
After the whirlwind tour of classic Americana music, it was time to go see something more current. The heart of Memphis is Beale Street. This is an entertainment district famed far and wide for the music and the food. These places have bands of all stripes that rock on through the night. The ends of Beale are blocked off so the middle of the street becomes a party zone with herds of go-cup carrying revelers ambling from one pool of music to the next. We found an early show, but most of the music and merriment continues long after these geezers have found their beds.
Memphis is probably just as famous for its food as its music. This is one of the main founts of American barbecue. Maybe the whole pig is involved, but, for Marylu and me, the proof is in the ribs. Around here the ribs come either dry or wet, are seasoned spicy hot, and the smoke runs deep. Sauces tend toward red, sweet, thick, and medium to extra spicy hot. We hit around six BBQ joints and all were pretty great.
Memphis is a great town for music and food and fun to explore. It is also a big city with big city problems and crime. Mostly though, it would be the heat in the summer that would keep us from dropping anchor here. Make it a good winter stopover.
Next up: Paducah, Kentucky