Welcome y’all to the capital of Blues and the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Deep in the southeastern corner of the state of Tennessee, the city of Memphis is not only a gateway to American musical history, but also to the (in)famous “Southern” states. Cajun food (i.e. add seafood to the regular American cuisine and deep-fry everything before you eat it), the characteristic drawled and slightly slurred speech, and a landscape that even in the middle of December bears the traces of blazing sunshine and lack of rain.
Tennesseeeh… a name like slow-dropping syrup, that conjures images of a lonely saxophone player on the front-porch of an old farm house, but equally invokes the memory of shocking headlines and the anxious voice of television broadcasters, reporting on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
The dark history of black slave-workers on the many cotton-farms of the South gave rise to various strands of blues, jazz and soul music, which are still very much alive in Memphis. The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum (a Smithonian Institution far away from Washington) is a great starting-point, not only for music aficionados, but for everybody who wants to trace the tunes of country, gospel, blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. And don’t let the term “museum’ fool you: in Memphis, music is not some dusty artifact displayed behind protective glass.
Beale Street, the main entertainment boulevard is buzzing a vibrating with it and almost feels like it is breathing sounds instead of air.
Moving forward from the heydays of blues and country to the second half of the 20th century. A guy walked into a small music studio in the outskirts of Memphis. And even though the producer at first refused to record him, the young man wouldn’t take no for an answer. That was the day when Sam Phillips, the owner of the independent label “Sun Studios” met Elvis Presley, who would later be revered by a whole generation and create songs that would enter the collective memory of peoples everywhere.
Coming up: New Orleans, capital of jazz