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Movin’ to the Beat in Memphis

Featuring Karen Revell and Laura Stone as they reminisce on their Lower Mississippi River cruise aboard American Duchess in late 2019.

We know there’s nothing quite like personal experience. It’s the little things. The smells, the music, the colours, the people you meet, the food you taste and the joys you discover that all add up to your opinion on a port of call – right?

In November 2019, before the world went mad, our special Key Partnership Managers, Karen Revell and Laura Stone, took a trip on the gorgeous paddlewheeler, American Duchess. We’ve asked them to take a deep dive into different ports of call for us in this series. Today’s episode features Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis is a city in the U.S. state of Tennessee. It is the seat of Shelby County and is situated along the Mississippi River. With a population of 633,104 at the 2020 U.S. census, Memphis is the second-most populous city in Tennessee, after Nashville. It is the fifth-most populous city in the Southeast, the nation’s 28th-largest overall, and the largest city bordering the Mississippi River. Discover it with Laura and Karen.


Great Expectations

Laura said that of her expectations of Memphis…

“Well, Memphis far exceeded my expectations straight off the bat! I know it was the home of Elvis, and the home to blues and in some ways music in general. I guess I expected it to have more of a “big city” feel, but it actually had a warm and small town vibe about it, with some big city ticket items. Beale Street I thought would be Chaos like Bourbon Street, but it had a much more chilled vibe about it.

We actually spent 2 nights in Memphis at the end of the cruise – We booked the Graceland Extension, and also wanted to explore the city. I could easily say we could have spent 5 nights here, there is just so much to see. The people here were really lovely and all really wanted to showcase the city. Everyone we met told us something new to see and do, and experience. A few musts: The Peabody for a cocktail and to watch the famous Peabody Ducks parade, Have a traditional Memphis feast and listen to the live music in Beale Street, Head to the Lorraine Hotel and National Civil Rights Museum and learn all about the history on Martin Luther King and the African American Resistance, Go for a stroll across the Big River Crossing, Head to the Memphis Pyramid (Bass Pro Shop) and see the Memphis skyline from the top, head to Cooper- Young for an explore of the boutiques in this trendy/ hip neighbourhood. You can also go to the Sun Recording Studio, Blues Hall of Fame, and Stax Music Museum – Which we missed due to it being a weekend.”

As the saying goes “music is the heart and soul of the city of Memphis”

karen revell

Karen says, “As the saying goes “music is the heart and soul of the city of Memphis”  The day we disembarked American Duchess was a Monday – which meant that the city of Memphis was a little quieter than normal.  I had seen Memphis in many movies/programmes and of course Elvis documentaries – so I was SUPER excited to be visiting his home and also where he spent most of his time.  Whilst he was born in Tupelo, Mississippi he relocated to Memphis with his family when he was 13 years old.  This was going to be an awesome day.  Seeing Graceland and Elvis’s home, cars, gravesite and museum was just fantastic!!! However what I expected and what I received was quite different – in a good, no make that an amazing way.”


Highlights

Without doubt the highlight would be the Peabody Ducks experience at the Peabody Hotel.

karen revell
Peabody Ducks at the Peabody Hotel

We asked Karen for her highlight of the day. “So – the hardest decision is which highlight to talk about?   Without doubt would be the Peabody Ducks experience at the Peabody Hotel.  Laura and I went there for the 5pm show when the ducks go back up the lift into their night time quarters.  The Peabody Hotel was simply beautiful – we sat and had a cocktail whilst waiting for the “show to happen” but it was a very special experience indeed.  A must for anyone spending time in Memphis!”

“The second highlight of the day, was after boarding the bus that was going to be taking us to Graceland (and also dropping some people off in town) as we were nearing Memphis city, our amazing guide (who was EXTREMELY knowledgeable) asked the bus driver to stop, as she saw a guy standing there on the side of the road with a guitar (looking almost homeless – he wasn’t trust me – but little did I know that this was all part of our tour)  She invited the guy with his guitar onto the bus and introduced him to us as “Memphis Jones” – he was a very funny guy and did some humour but also played some fantastic music whilst on the bus and he was INCREDIBLE!  He said that for those of us who were staying in town that night to come and listen to him play at BB Kings that night.  So Laura and I did just that!  We went and had dinner and danced the night away listening to Memphis Jones playing live!”


“My third highlight – was most definitely visiting Graceland.   Ever since I was a little girl and growing up listening to Elvis – even playing some of Elvis’s songs on the piano accordian for years – I have always been a big fan!  To actually get to see where he lived and to walk in the same house that was his was actually very moving for me – the experience was incredible.  A definite MUST SEE for anyone heading to Memphis.  Over 600,000 people visit Graceland each year.” said Karen.

Graceland Mansion

Laura also found it hard to narrow it down…

“Well… we saw so much during our time in Memphis, it is really hard to pick!”

“Graceland itself was vast and they have done such an amazing job on capturing the essence on Elvis, and his history, as well as his family and his inspiration for music. Not only did we get to walk through his home, with incredible detail of his family and how he lived his live here, but we also walked through his planes, we saw all 30 of Elvis’s cars on display, we saw clothes he had worn on stage and in his movies, we saw who inspired Elvis and his music, and lots more memorabilia from his live. It was such a fantastic experience, and I can see Elvis fans would really appreciate this experience.” said Laura.

Graceland itself was vast and they have done such an amazing job on capturing the essence on Elvis, and his history, as well as his family and his inspiration for music

laura stone

“Now, outside of Elvis and Graceland, we had a great time Exploring Beale Street which really comes alive at night with Blues restaurants and bars, fantastic BBQ meats and friendly faces. We went to Blues City Café- with the BEST Memphis ribs you can get.  We also went to BB Kings Blues Club for a meal and watched the live entertainment. I really enjoyed this- it was a great way to end our food and music journey in the south.”

Laura continued, “I do have one other highlight… the Lorraine Hotel and National Civil Rights Museum was really interesting. Now as we spent the weekend in Memphis the Museum was actually closed to visitors, which was such a shame… however, you can actually do a bit of a self-guided tour of this area. Outside of Lorraine Hotel they had speakers which actually took you an a journey through time, tracing the steps of Martin Luther King and African American Resistance. They Have murals on the buildings, and some of Mr Kings speeches on walls, gates, signs, etc. Even though the museum was closed you got a real sense of the importance of this history. This is actually in the South Main district, and I would recommend walking around this area as there are some really cute local cafes, and boutiques with local artists and designers works for purchase. You can also see the murals “I am Man”(pictured above), and the “Upstanders Mural” on the walls in this area.”


Interesting Facts

Lorraine Hotel, Memphis – a sad history

Karen was fascinated to learn the history of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. She said, “Laura and I visited the Lorraine Motel which is where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on 04 April 1968 as he was standing on the second floor of the motels balcony.  I had learned about Martin Luther King Jr whilst in school but never had I learnt all of the facts about what happened.  He had flown to Memphis on 29 March 1968 in support of the black sanitary public works employees – the workers had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment.   The black people were treated most poorly and he was there to fight for them.  His flight had been delayed due to a bomb threat against his plane.  He finally arrived.  He addressed a rally and delivered his speech on the 03 April 1968 and the next day he was fatally shot.  After he died, there was nationwide riots and his main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the US.  Just days after Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  The Lorraine Motel was forever etched in America’s collective memory from that day on.  It was a preferred stop for many black people who came to Memphis – the guest book included entertainers such as Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin to name a few.  Now there is a National Civil Rights Museum that is built around the Lorraine Motel.”

The Memphis Pyramid is a building that you cant escape. This was built in 1991 as an arena. It was actually built to as a play on the city’s namesake- Memphis was actually named after Memphis, Egypt due to its position on the River. In 2015, the Pyramid re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops megastore, which included shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, and an archery range, with an outdoor observation deck adjacent to its apex.

laura stone

Physicality

Laura says, “One thing I did find with this city is that things are spread out. Beale Street itself, is easy to walk and navigate your way around. You can get a bus out to Graceland, but the exhibit itself is rather large and takes a while to explore. There is a shuttle that goes between the exhibit and Elvis’s house, which does have a few narrow walkways and stairs (might be hard for wheelchairs), but wasn’t strenuous. I would be prepared for a long day out here.

We used the local Uber service a number of times to get were we wanted to. This was quick and easy, and the drivers were lovely- but to get around to the city highlights, I would suggest either a tour, transport (trams) or Ubers.”


Lasting Impressions

Memphis was awesome!  Totally recommend anyone visiting Memphis to spend a good 5 or 6 nights (or more) if they really want to enjoy everything that Memphis has to offer.  It offers such a diverse range of experiences, whether it be food, the music, the sightseeing – it is sure to please every age group visiting the area.

karen revell

Laura’s final word on Memphis was “I really enjoyed Memphis and I think it’s a great place to start or finish your journey in the South. There are so many attractions to this area and you can travel in any direction from here. You definitely get a great sense of pride in the history of Memphis, with the food, the music and the civil rights movement. The city is great fun and I think anyone visiting will enjoy Memphis.”