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What is Memphis known for? A lot actually! Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the southwest of Tennessee, Memphis is a soulful city, known for its gospel, blues and rock ‘n’ roll music. Visitors can trace the history of these music genres by visiting the city’s various museums, including the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Blues Hall of Fame.
The city is also home to Sun Studio, where artists like Johnny Cash, B.B King and Elvis recorded some of their music. 8 miles south of Memphis lies the Graceland Mansion – Elvis Presley’s former home – which has now been turned into a museum.
Let’s take a look at all the things that Memphis is famous for, from food and music to landmarks and famous artists.
What is Memphis Known For?
Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Memphis is often referred to as the “birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll”. Sun Records, a record company in downtown Memphis, churned out chart-topping hits from artists such as Elvis Presley (the “king of rock ‘n’ roll), Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
America’s Distribution Center
Memphis is often nicknamed “America’s Distribution Center, because the city is home to the country’s largest cargo and freight airport. Global delivery company FedEx is headquartered in Memphis and a number of distribution centers are located there, including a Disney Warehouse And a Nike distribution center.
The city occupies a strategic location in a flood-free zone on the Mississippi River and is a major transportation hub, boasting one of the country’s largest inland ports and hundreds of truck terminals.
Memphis is home of The Memphis Grizzlies – an American professional basketball team that plays in the NBA’s Western Conference Southwest Division. Their home is the FedExForum – a 805,850 ft² (75,000 m²) arena capable of seating 18,119 people.
The franchise began in 1995 as an NPA expansion team called the “Vancouver Grizzlies” based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The team relocated to the U.S. during the 2000-2001 season and were renamed the Memphis Grizzlies. Today, the Grizzlies are the only Memphis team to play in any of the major North American sports leagues. They’re also the only professional basketball team in the state of Tennessee.
The dogwood is the official tree of Memphis and is a symbol of the city’s resilience and its ability to overcome adversity.. The city has many dogwoods lining streets, planted on lawns, or growing wild in parks.
The Dogwood Festival takes place each spring at Shelby Farms Park – a popular park located just outside of downtown Memphis – and celebrates all things related to this beautiful tree!
Home of the Blues
Memphis is known for being home of blues music and spawned many famous blues musicians, including W.C. Handy, Memphis Minnie, Furry Lewis and B.B King.
B.B King first made an impression on the blues scene in the 1940s when he played on Beale Street with other famous musicians. Although he passed away in 2015, his music still lives on and you’ll see evidence of his lasting influence throughout the city. B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street offers live music every night, while Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum showcases all sorts of B.B. King memorabilia.
When visiting Memphis, make sure you pop down to The Peapody Memphis to see the famous Peabody ducks parade. Back in the 1930’s, the hotel’s manager Frank Schutt and his friend returned from a weekend of hunting with some live decoy ducks. They put the ducks in the hotel’s fountain, and they settled right in. Today, the ducks march to and from the fountain at 11am and 5pm.
What Food is Memphis Known For?
“They’ve got catfish on the table
They’ve got gospel in the air” – Marc Cohn, Walking in Memphis
Memphis sits on the Mississippi River, which is a top spot to fish for catfish. Blue catfish weighing over 100 pounds have been caught from this river!
Catfish is one of the most iconic foods in Memphis and can be found in numerous restaurants all over town. It’s usually served breaded and deep fried, with fries on the side. Some of the best spots to find catfish include A&J’s Catfish Station, Souls Fish Cafe and Flying Fish.
In addition to catfish, Memphis is also really famous for its barbecue. Many of the restaurants are family-run, serving up brisket, ribs and delicious smoked meats served with sides like mac n’ cheese and crunchy slaw.
Among the best BBQ spots in Memphis are Corky’s Ribs & BBQ, The Bar-B-Q Shop, Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, Bain Barbecue & Bakery, and Arnold’s BBQ and Grill.
Famous Attractions in Memphis
Beale Street is the most iconic street in Memphis
“Saw the ghost of Elvis
On Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
Then I watched him walk right through
Now security they did not see him
They just hovered ’round his tomb
But there’s a pretty little thing
Waiting for the King
Down in the Jungle Room”
National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum is located on the historic site of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The museum was founded by the Lorraine Motel Foundation and opened in 1991.
The exhibits feature artifacts from major events in American history, including items related to slavery and Jim Crow laws; they also include displays about civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall who fought for equality during the 1950s-1960s Civil Rights Movement. The museum’s focus is on telling stories about ordinary people who participated in this movement–from activists to bystanders–and how they were affected by it as individuals or groups (e.g., Native Americans).
The city of Memphis was named after the ancient capital of Egypt and even has its own pyramid, which is located in Pinch District on the banks of the Mississippi River. The pyramid is 321 feet (98 m) tall with base sides of 591 feet (180 m), and was originally built as a 20,142-seat arena. Unlike the ancient pyramids of Giza, which were made of limestone rocks, the Memphis Pyramid is made of steel and concrete, and took a lot less time to build!
Until 2007 it functioned as a sports and entertainment venue, but now contains a Brass Pro Shops megastore, a hotel, a bowling alley, an observation deck and various bars and restaurants.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
If you want to learn more about the music that made Memphis famous and see some of the instruments that were used, head to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. The museum is located in Soulsville USA–the most famous neighborhood in all of Memphis. It was founded by Isaac Hayes and his wife Joan as a way for them to honor their father who had been an artist at Stax Records before his death.
The museum features exhibits on artists like Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes himself, along with plenty of artifacts from those who performed at the original location on McLemore Avenue between 1968-1971 (when it was torn down). You can also take part in live performances by local musicians during your visit!
Sun Studio is a famous recording studio that was founded by Sam Phillips in 1950. Phillips was a local radio DJ who wanted to open a recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee. The first artists to record at Sun Studio were Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner and B.B. King. In 1952 Johnny Cash recorded “I Walk the Line” at this legendary location!
Famous People from Memphis
A household name around the world, Elvis Presley was dubbed the “King of Rock and Roll” and is considered one of the greatest music icons of all time.
He was born in Tupelo Mississippi but later relocated to Memphis with his family at the age of 13. His former home, Graceland, and died there in 1977 at the young age of 42. He was laid to rest in the gardens of Graceland and
Born in Memphis on June 1, 1937, Morgan Freeman is one of the world’s greatest and best-known actors.
Famous for his deep, soulful voice, he’s starred in all sorts of hit movies, including Million Dollar Baby, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption and The Bucket List. Throughout the course of his career he’s won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2004.
Pop star Justin Timberlake was born in Memphis in 1981 and grew up listening to country and gospel music. He went on to join boy band NSYNC in 1995, recording numerous chart-topping albums and hit singles.
After the band’s breakup, Timberlake went on to enjoy a successful solo career and is considered one of the most successful male artists of all time. He’s won ten Grammy Awards, four Primetime Emmy Awards, nine Billboard Music Awards, and a whole host of other accolades.
A Final Word…
So there you have it – all the things that Memphis is known for. If you haven’t visited already, you should! Pop on your blue suede shoes, take a walk down Beale Street, taste some fried catfish and watch some live soul music for a taste of what Memphis is all about.