Elvis and the other King

DAY 6 – 25th MARCH 2011

Today I shared something with Cher. I am neither a gypsy, tramp or thief – though the furry taste on my tongue this morning might have meant any of those. No, today was all about Walking in Memphis. And with my height, I was hardly ten feet of the Beale.

Midtown Memphis doesn’t lend itself to a sense of history, and compared to New Orleans, it doesn’t put on quite the same show.

Midtown Memphis. No frills.

However, this is the road that leads to a little bit of history. Well actually, a whole load of music history. The place where Elvis and Johnny Cash were first discovered.

Sun Studio : the home of legends

It’s an unassuming building – and for $12 you get a pretty unassuming tour. Upstairs contains a load of memorabilia, including pictures, instruments and recording equipment from downthe years – and downstairs is the main studio itself. The tour guide tells the well trodden story of Elvis, Johnny Cash and the other unknowns who passed through the doors, including a young Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. The visitors are suitably impressed, and raid the gift shop that has every imaginable thing with the logo on it.

Downtown on a Friday afternoon is dead. I have no idea where everyone is. Many of the businesses on Main Street are closed and there’s a chilly wind in the air. I head to the Lorraine Motel, made famous for all the wrong reasons. This was the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated – and the building is now the National Civil Rights Museum – a moving story of history from slavery to the present day.
The Lorraine Motel

But not everyone seems to appreciate the story…


Black culture, of course, is not defined by Martin Luther King, and on the way back to the hotel I spot another piece of history, in the form of an old radio station’s building.

Then they turned my radio station into a bank.

A nearby plaque explains the history. WDIA was the country’s first station to have an all black format. This pre-dated the civil rights movement of the sixties, and must have been an incredibly important part of Memphis at the time.

The station still broadcasts today – though it’s no longer in a downtown location or I might have been forced to pay a visit in person. And it continues to serve an important purpose in modern black culture, with an R&B music format.

Now, I didn’t expect to find that when I was Walking in Memphis.

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