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Is Memphis Still a Music City?

By meerna Jul11,2024
Is Memphis Still a Music City?


According to historian Rob Bowman, in 1973 Memphis was among the top five recording centers in the world, along with New York, Los Angeles, London and Nashville.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, hits recorded in Memphis or released on Memphis labels were fixtures on the pop charts—from “Blue Suede Shoes” to “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay,” from “Do the Funky Chicken” to “Disco Duck.”

Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis, while Stax and Hi made stars of Otis Redding and Al Green. And for much of the first half of the 20th century, Beale Street was a testing ground for generations of blues, jazz, and R&B artists.

Those days are gone. But Memphis remains a “music city” and likely will be for many years to come—one of the points in the southern triangle of indelible music meccas that includes Nashville and New Orleans.

Memphis’ reputation as a music city is most evident in the image the city creates and the attractions it promotes.

It’s hard to miss the numerous Elvis billboards that line the highways leading into and out of town. Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate, is said to be the second most visited home in the U.S., after the White House. Sun Studio and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music also make the list of must-sees for most tourists.

Meanwhile, Memphis artists continue to create unforgettable and unique music, both in the studio and on stage.

The hip-hop and jazz communities are vibrant and thriving, underground phenomena and mainstream success. Rap ​​artists like Moneybagg Yo sell millions of records. The area’s studios continue to attract artists like the Drive-By Truckers and Cyndi Lauper, who are eager to work with producers like Matt Ross-Spang and Scott Bomar.

The area’s venues change frequently, but Beale Street, the Crosstown Concourse, the Overton Park Shell (where Elvis made his public debut in 1954), the Soundstage at Graceland, the historic Orpheum, and various other clubs and spaces regularly host music. There are also annual outdoor concert series and large festivals.

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Memphis is also home to two of the highest-grossing non-commercial radio stations in the country, WEVL-FM 89.9, which has been in operation for nearly 50 years, and WYXR-FM 91.7, in the Crosstown Building, a relatively new station that launched in 2020. Both stations play a wide range of commercial-free, DJ-curated programming featuring blues, jazz, country, folk, rockabilly, reggae, punk, techno, hip-hop and more.

Additionally, city schools and youth programs like the Memphis Jazz Workshop and Stax Music Academy provide musical education and training to keep the sounds of the Bluff City alive for generations to come.

By meerna

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