For nearly a century, Memphis has been at the epicenter of America’s musical tradition, which means that the city is literally saturated with notable music-related sites. While we’d need an entire book to attempt to document them all, here are 20 sites than should be included on any music lover’s list.
Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church (787 Hale Rd, Memphis, TN)
Founded by soul music legend Al Green in 1976, this humble church in Whitehaven has become a must-see landmark for countless Memphis music aficionados. Rev. Green still retains the soulful energy that made him a star and the church is one of the best places in Memphis to catch some great Southern gospel. While visitors are welcomed, please remember that the Full Gospel Tabernacle is a place of worship and not a tourist attraction, so act (and dress) accordingly.
Ardent Studios (2000 Madison Ave. Memphis, TN)
While Midtown’s Ardent Studios may not be a household name like Stax or Sun, the still-active studio has recorded some of the biggest musical acts of all time, including Z.Z. Top, Led Zeppelin, Isaac Hayes, and B.B. King. Ardent was also notably the home of Big Star, the world’s greatest unknown band. While Ardent is not typically open for tours, it’s a must-see site for any music lover.
Today, Beale Street is largely known for its over-sized mixed drinks and variety of bars and clubs, but during its heyday it was the center of Black music in America. Thankfully, there are still plenty of remnants from this bygone era, including Handy Park, the Withers Collection Gallery, and other slightly hidden gems throughout. The street is also chocked full of live music performances daily.
The Blues Hall of Fame Museum (421 S. Main St. Memphis, TN)
Opened in 2015 by The Blues Foundation, the Blues Hall of Fame Museum is Memphis’ only museum dedicated solely to the blues. With interactive exhibits and plenty of eye-catching memorabilia, the museum is highly recommended for blues lovers and casual listeners alike.
Center for Southern Folklore (119 S. Main St. Memphis, TN)
For decades, the Center for Southern Folklore has been at the forefront of documenting and archiving Memphis’ unique cultural heritage. Today, the Center continues this work while also offering a space that hosts live music, movie screenings, a café, a gift shop, and much more. In fact, the CSF is probably a place best experienced for yourself, as their many offerings make them a bit hard to define.
The CMPLX (2234 Lamar Ave. Memphis, TN)
Since opening in early 2019, The CMPLX has become an important center for Memphis’ Black creative community. Founded by a group of artists known as The Collective, The CMPLX is a unique gallery and performance space that frequently hosts live music featuring some of the city’s most innovative and fearless talents. While The CMPLX is not a live music venue per se, it’s a great place to discover some of the Bluff City’s best emerging talent.
Earnestine and Hazel’s (531 S. Main St. Memphis,TN)
Widely recognized as one of America’s best dive bars, Earnestine and Hazel’s is also deeply steeped in music history. During the 1960s and 70s, the former café and brothel hosted everyone from Ray Charles to Tina Turner and was apparently the inspiration for the Rolling Stone’s hit “Brown Sugar,” while in more recent years it has hosted the White Stripes and is one of the city’s best places for late night dance parties. In a city saturated with soul and history, E&H still stands out as a notable example of what makes Memphis special.
Goner Records (2152 Young Ave. Memphis, TN)
Since 1993, Goner Records has been at the epicenter of Memphis’ punk and garage rock universe, releasing music from local legends such as Oblivians and Jay Reatard (amongst many others). In 2004, they opened their own record store, which has been recognized as one of the country’s best by publications such as Rolling Stone. In addition, Goner also hosts the annual Goner Fest, as well as DJ nights and live performances throughout the city.
Graceland (3764 Elvis Presley Blvd. Memphis, TN)
While Elvis’ mansion has long been Memphis’ premiere musical landmark, the estate continues to expand in new and exciting ways. Whether an Elvis superfan or a more casual listener, Graceland provides an immersive experience that is unlike anything else on earth,
Hernando’s Hideaway (3210 Old Hernando Rd. Memphis, TN)
Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash are just a few of the legendary figures who once frequented Hernando’s Hideaway, an old-school roadhouse now owned and operated by musician Dale Watson. While many of these legends are now gone, the music and atmosphere still live on at Hernando’s, where country and rockabilly concerts are held nearly every night.
Famously the home to Elvis’ first public concert, the Levitt Shell remains one of the city’s most popular music venues and tourist sites. Every year, the Shell hosts more than 50 free concerts from local and national acts alike and it’s one of the city’s best choices for family-friendly entertainment. Located in the middle of Overton Park, the Shell also offers a uniquely beautiful location to catch some of the finest live music the city has to offer.
Memphis Slim House (1130 College St, Memphis, TN)
Located directly across the street from Stax in the former home of blues great Memphis Slim, the Memphis Slim House is a place for musicians to gather, rehearse, and create together. In addition to being an important resource for Memphis musicians, the Slim House also hosts regular concerts and events.
Memphis Music Hall of Fame (126 S. 2nd St. Memphis, TN)
With over 80 inductees and counting, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame is a great way to learn about the deep and diverse field of individuals who helped to make Memphis one of the world’s greatest musical cities. From pioneers like the Memphis Jug Band and Furry Lewis to contemporary artists such as Justin Timberlake and Three 6 Mafia, the MMHOF highlights the heroes of Memphis music through interactive displays, memorabilia, videos, and more.
Memphis Rock N Soul Museum (191 Beale St. Memphis, TN)
Developed by the Smithsonian Institution, the Rock N Soul Museum tells the comprehensive story of American music with a focus on Memphis’ unparalleled contributions. The tour begins with the field music of the early 20th century and winds its way through the history of blues, gospel, rock n roll, and soul to paint a captivating portrait of the heroes who helped to change music forever.
Royal Studios (1320 Willie Mitchell Blvd, Memphis, TN)
Once home to soul music icons such as Al Green, Willie Mitchell, and Ann Peebles, Royal Studios remains one of the city’s most important active studios. In recent years, artists such as John Mayer and Bruno Mars have traveled to the small studio to capture a bit of that signature Memphis magic. While the studio is not open for tours, it’s still a popular site on any Memphis music pilgrimage.
Sam Phillips Recording Studio (639 Madison Ave. Memphis, TN)
After establishing himself as one of the most important and consequential producers in music history as the founder of Memphis Recording Service and Sun Studios, Sam Phillips struck gold a third time when he established Sam Phillips Recording Studio in 1960. Located just around the corner from Sun, the studio hosted some of the biggest stars in music history over the years, including Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, and the Yardbirds. Today, the studio remains active and continues to attract talent from around the country.
Shangri-La Records (1916 Madison Ave. Memphis, TN)
While Memphis is blessed with a plethora of great record stores, nobody does it better than Shangri-La. While the store boasts a collection of music from virtually every era and genre, they specialize in the music of Memphis and feature plenty of hard-to-find gems. If vinyl is your thing, then Shangri-La is your place.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music (926 E McLemore Ave, Memphis, TN)
Located at the former home of Stax Records, the soul music powerhouse that was the home to Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Sam and Dave, and many more, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was founded in 2003 and quickly became one of the city’s most popular attractions. Although the museum focuses on the enduring legacy of Stax, it also shines a light on other important centers of soul music such as Hi Records, Motown, and Muscle Shoals.
Sun Studios (706 Union Ave. Memphis, TN)
Known as “The Birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” Sun Studios put Memphis music on the map in the 1950s with early releases from luminaries such as Elvis, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, and B.B. King. Their celebrated guided tours take visitors through the history of the legendary studio in a space that is truly hallowed ground for music lovers.
Wild Bill’s (1580 Vollintine Ave. Memphis, TN)
If you’re in search for the authentic juke joint experience, then you can’t do much better than Wild Bill’s, one of Memphis’ best (and last) juke joints. Like any good juke joint, Wild Bill’s offers great soul food, cold beer, and some of the best Delta blues that the region has to offer. Be warned, though: the club is typically only open late nights during the weekends.