Each May we strive to bring the world to Memphis to experience one of the largest festivals in North America. We have something for everyone - from lectures and exhibits, to movie screenings and our core events. Attendees come from all 50 states and several foreign countries during the month of May to our city, one that's rich in history and experience.
We hope you love your time in Memphis this May. One of the organization's core values is to "promote the rich musical and culinary cultural heritage of Memphis." If you need some help with what to do, where to eat and what to visit in between our events, scroll through some of the local hotspots and take advantage of all that Memphis has to offer!
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
From 1959 – 1974, a tiny movie-theater-turned-recording-studio in Downtown Memphis produced a string of hits that stirs souls today.
Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, a brother and sister duo, purchased the old Capitol Theater on McLemore Avenue to relocate their recording equipment. Without knowing, they would soon be part of a worldwide sensation dubbed American soul music. This move placed them in an area rich with talent. Many of the artists and musicians who recorded at Stax were from the surrounding neighborhood, local churches and schools. In a time when racial tension was high, this studio never saw race but rather focused on producing its own sound – a Memphis sound – that would be heard around the world.
The tour starts with a short introductory video (which alone is worth the price of admission!). From there you will see an amazing collection of more than 2,000 interactive exhibits, films, artifacts, items of memorabilia, galleries, and – of course – Isaac Hayes' gold-plated, peacock blue 1972 Superfly Cadillac El Dorado.
While touring the museum, you will hear Stax hits including "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, "Green Onions" by Booker T. and the MGS, "Do the Funky Chicken" by Rufus Thomas, and "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes. Soulsville U.S.A. needs to be part of your Memphis music pilgrimage.
Walk in the footsteps of the King of Rock 'n' Roll at Elvis' home, Graceland. The full Graceland experience will take you from Elvis' humble beginnings through his rise to superstardom. See how a rock 'n' roll legend lived and relaxed with family and friends. The Graceland experience includes an interactive iPad tour of Graceland mansion, plus a self-guided tour through our new entertainment complex, Elvis Presley's Memphis! The complex houses Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum, which is the largest and most comprehensive Elvis museum in the world, and Presley Motors, our new automobile museum. While you're there, check out Discovery Exhibits that cover everything from Elvis' service in the U.S. Army to his style to artists who were influenced by him.
National Civil Rights Museum
First open in 1991 with a focus on education of the history of the American civil rights movement, the updated museum design now includes large-format exhibits, more film and interactive media.
Check out exhibits like:
- The "Slavery and a Culture of Resistance" exhibit located in a large round room and illuminated with maps and information about the Atlantic slave trade. Visitors can crouch into the a hull of a slave ship and try to image what humans endured as part of the slave trade in the late 1700s.
- Hear first-person accounts about life under Jim Crow laws. See how "separate but equal" led to economic and social conditions that that tended to be inferior to white Americans. Take in the history of how blacks banded together and slowly chipped away at segregation, one major ruling at a time.
- Step aboard a vintage bus and hear the altercation between a public transit system worker in Montgomery and Rosa Parks.
- The 1963 March on Washington exhibit immerses the user into a life-like setting while an audio excerpt plays from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
- Listening posts highlight personal stories of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike and events surrounding King's death.
- A bold new "Join the Movement" area encourages visitors to take lessons from the 20th century movement and apply them to today's challenges.
The National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Hotel is a place in history and symbolism, not just for black Americans but for all who cherished King's ideals and vision. The museum may be built with bricks and mortar, but the message the National Civil Rights Museum delivers is enough to change the world, one visitor at a time.
Admission to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and students with ID and $12 for children ages 4-17. Plan for at least two hours to take the self-guided tour. The museum is closed every Tuesday.
It has been said that "If music was a religion, then Memphis would be Jerusalem and Sun Studio its most holy shrine."
In 1954, an unknown Elvis Presley, grabbed a mic and sang his heart out making Sun the most famous recording studio in the world. Take a guided tour through the birthplace of rock 'n' roll where you will experience outtakes from recording sessions, touch Elvis' first microphone and hear the real story of the studio that launched the careers of not only Elvis Presley, but Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, and many others that signed with the Sun label.
Sam Phillips opened Sun Studio in 1950 with the goal of capturing the pure, raw energy of Beale Street. It produced the first rock 'n' roll single: Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats' version of "Rocket 88" in 1951 and continues as an active recording business for many notable artists including U2, JW-Jones, Hubert Sumlin, Larry Taylor and Richard Innes, John Mellencamp and more.
Tours are given at the bottom half of every hour. While you're waiting, enjoy a handmade milkshake at the café or browse their incredible gift shop for Sun recordings, books, concert posters and other Sun memorabilia. For your convenience, there is a free shuttle to and from Graceland, the Rock 'n' Soul Museum and Sun Studio.
Gibson Beale Street Showcase Factory
When a small company named Gibson started crafting mandolins in 1894, it probably had no idea the impact it would make on the world. Today, Gibson is the foremost maker of electric guitars and is known for their famed Les Paul and Chet Atkin models, and of course, B.B. King's Lucille becoming the guitar of choice for artists like Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Peter Frampton, and John Lennon and George Harrison.
Every person who has ever played air guitar needs to take a tour of the Gibson Guitar Factory. You will watch skilled luthiers as they craft some of the finest guitars in the world. You will see each step of the process: binding, neck-fitting, painting, buffing, and tuning.
- Beale Street Music Festival
- International Salute To Colombia
- World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
- Great American River Run
- International Exchange Program
- For Educators