What is music? Music is any sound combined in a way to produce beauty of form, harmony and expression of emotion. Music is often something that makes an impact on an individual’s life. In some instances, an artist will make an impact on music; even rarer, a city will influence music. As an avid traveler, I would like to believe that I’ve experienced many cities in my lifetime—some more memorable than others. With my passion for music, I am always searching for local artists on my adventures. Whether I’m searching in local pubs, at musical events, or by word of mouth, I am always on the hunt for talented musicians. Of all the cities I’ve explored, a select few have truly made an impression on music. In my personal experiences, the city with the greatest impact is Memphis. Memphis, Tennessee, the largest city along the Mighty Mississippi. There is a rich cultural background surrounding Memphis. In remembrance, the city puts on a month-long celebration known as Memphis in May. This promotes Memphis’ heritage and brings the community together in celebration. Four main events take place in the celebration: Beale Street Music Festival, International Week, World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and the Great River Run. The Beale Street Music Festival is a 3 day festival that showcases local artists and big-name stars alike. This is the kick-off event of the whole Memphis in May celebration. It is the only event that has been held every year since the birth of Memphis in May in 1977. At the music festival you will experience the history tracing back to the 1800’s where African American musicians would travel to perform on Beale Street.
Beale Street is located in Downtown Memphis which runs approximately 2 miles. It has a significant history on music, particularly the blues. Beale Street actually had an impact on a specific discipline of blues, Memphis Blues. In the early 20th century, many artists traveled to play on Beale Street. Artists include Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, Albert King, B.B. King, Memphis Minnie, and countless more. Since then, many blues clubs and restaurants line Beale Street as tourist attractions. Though I am not particularly fond of touristy spots, I had to experience the essence of Beale Street myself—and it did not disappoint. If you can sift through the crowds and find a few of the dive bars, solid local artists perform nightly. In fact, every bar I went to had an excellent local band/musician who loved performing. They took time in-between sets to talk to the patrons and tourists alike.
Memphis is not only known for its influence on the blues, but also for taking part in pioneering gospel, soul, and rock n’ roll. Many artists got their start in Memphis including Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Otis Redding, Carl Perkins, and the aforementioned, B.B. King. Away from Beale Street, Sam Phillips opened Sun Studio, quite possibly the most seminal recording studio in American music. Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Orbison and Elvis Presley all made their first recordings there and were then, “discovered”. Sun Studio is still standing and open to the public. This is a must see if you’re ever in Memphis and a fan of music.
Even though this is an indie blog, there would be no indie music without the work of previously mentioned artists. Arguably, the work of said artists would not be in existence without the city of Memphis. Of course, this is all speculation; but it is fun to entertain the thought of where music would be without the impact of Memphis, Tennessee. Would the blues and soul be same? Would rock n’ roll even exist? In my opinion, the music world would be a completely different place without Memphis. Even though indie doesn’t necessarily coincide with the genres from Memphis, one thing holds true: the heart behind the music. Indie artists write and perform because they want to be heard, through passion and pride. This quality, this passion, was evident in the budding musicians from Memphis and evident in indie musicians alike.
It’s been about a year since my journey to Memphis and I can’t wait to go back. It’s a remarkable thing walking the streets and feeling the history that took place. When you go, take it all in. Experience all that the city will offer. I promise you something: there is not a single city that compares to it musically. Like a drug, you will be hooked and go back for more.
“I’m going to Memphis, where the beat is tough. Memphis, I can’t get enough. It makes you tremble and it makes you weak. It’s in your blood, that Memphis Beat.”
–Jerry Lee Lewis