Memphis
Best Things to Do

Learn why Memphis is often referred to as the "Birthplace of Rock 'n Roll."

Founded in 1819, Memphis started as a rowdy river town frequented by Davy Crockett, future Texas governor Sam Houston, who also served as governor of Tennessee (1827-1829), and future President Andrew Jackson. Wealthy plantation owners helped tame it, and with the Mississippi River at its front door, the city grew as a commercial center and crossroads. Cotton was and still is a major economic force, but today the city is also home to FedEx, which keeps the airport bustling at night.

From Elvis Presley to Isaac Hayes to Aretha Franklin, Memphis has produced more musical legends than most American cities. And that rich musical heritage is highlighted on the city’s most popular historic strip, Beale Street. Home to blues legend W.C. Handy, Beale also served as the birthplace for the blues and a young Elvis Presley was inspired by the sounds he heard coming from the strip’s many nightclubs.

But plenty of other American history played out on Beale Street and its environs. In fact, Memphis is a city unlike any other given how nearly every nook and cranny is reminiscent of American history. Ulysses S. Grant stationed his headquarters on Beale Street during the Civil War (at the Phelan Home, which now houses an elegant restaurant). The 1920s brought some of the country's hottest nightclubs and vaudeville theaters, not to mention a very popular red-light district and an escalating crime rate.

Before and during the Civil Rights Movement, Beale served as the city center's African-American commerce and culture. Memphis was at the crux of the American Civil Rights Movement, as the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in this city helped to galvanize the movement. Not to be overlooked is the nation's largest river, the Mighty Mississippi, a big reason why Memphis was settled and is still an intriguing presence.

The city saw its downtown deteriorate during the 1970s, but over the years historic preservation, renovation and residential development have brought it back to life. Fortunately, the city has recognized and is capitalizing on its wealth of music history, as well as its African-American heritage, Southern culture and river lore. With so much history behind it, Memphis deserves your undivided attention, and we are here to help you make the most of your stay.

Related Content:

GAYOT's Complete Guide to Memphis