When Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Presley all decided to jam together one night in 1956, it solidified the fame of Sun Studios forever. Known as the Million Dollar Quartet, the event is often pointed to as a peak moment in American music.
Groups that visit Sun Studios can not only learn about the recording company’s fascinating past, they can also create their own record to take home. The studio gives tours but also continues as an active recording business for many notable artists, including U2, John Mellencamp and others.
“It’s one of the most authentic tours in Memphis,” said Palmertree. “You can stand in the same room that the Million Dollar Quartet played in. You can pose next to Elvis’ microphone.”
The 45-minute tour educates guests on how Sam Phillips opened the studio in 1950 with the goal of capturing the energetic music of Beale Street. Groups can listen to outtakes from recording sessions and discover how the operation helped launch the careers of the Million Dollar Quartet musicians, as well as other notable singers like King and Roy Orbison.
Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum
How did a town in the Tennessee Delta give birth to both rock ’n’ roll and the blues sound? The Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum reveals the path that led from a rural music tradition in the 1930s to Memphis’ musical heyday in the 1970s.
Opened in 2000 in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the museum uses audio guides with more than 300 minutes of information and more than 100 songs recorded in the Memphis area. Groups can tour the museum’s seven galleries at their own pace.
More than 30 instruments, 40 costumes and three audiovisual programs help tell the stories of musical pioneers.
The museum’s Beale Street location allows the museum to offer an additional tour to what may be the city’s most famous street.
“They rent headsets that narrate the history of Beale Street for your own guided tour,” said Palmertree. “Beale Street has a fascinating history.”
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
The heart-aching sounds of soul first originated in Memphis’ Stax recording studio, which captured songs from the local neighborhood. Luckily, the neighbors had an exorbitant amount of musical talent, since Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Booker T. all got their groove on at Stax.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music replicates the former studio on the same site where soul legends once stood. Groups walk through a timeline of Southern music, from a small country church to a gold Cadillac once owned by Hayes.
Artifacts, historic gold records, outfits and rare video footage illustrate soul music’s prominent role in American culture. Music plays almost constantly throughout the tour, prompting some visitors to break into dance.
“It’s one of my favorite places,” said Palmertree. “It’s all about the music. You walk through, and it makes you want to dance.”