Much like New Orleans, Memphis is a town for history buffs and music lovers of all genres.

In a short week here, I gained a massive appreciation for the impact that Memphis music (gospel, soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll) had on the world and got my fill at two very iconic music spots: Sun Studio and Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

I also had the chance to walk into Arkansas via the Big River Crossing, watch the famous Peabody Duck March inside the lobby of the nearly 150-year-old Peabody Hotel, check out Broad Avenue Arts District, plus visit Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum, all included here.


Sun Studio

This should be high up on your Memphis to-do list. A lively 45-minute tour will introduce you to the most famous recording studio in the South, where a young Elvis Presley came to record his first demo for a whopping $4.

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[Holding Elvis Presley’s first mic inside Sun Studio]

There’s so much history under one roof! Tours are offered daily from 10 am to 6 pm via rotating staff (my tour was led by Surrey, BC native Lahna!). There’s a great shop for all your Sun Studio swag needs too. Sun Studio is at 706 Union Avenue.


Stax Museum of American Soul Music

After watching an introductory 20-minute film in the Stax Museum’s theater, take a self-guided tour through the history of soul, from gospel to long-standing TV sensation Soul Train. Stax includes over 2,500 artifacts culled from the decades.

Stax let the God-given talent in each musician come out and let the world either accept or reject their music. It’s widely believed that had Martin Luther King Jr. not been assassinated, Stax would still be around today.

Isaac Hayes Gold-Plated Cadillac
[Isaac Hayes’ 24k gold-plated Cadillac]

Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Ike & Tina Turner, Isaac Hayes and numerous others are celebrated here; allow at least an hour to pass through all the rooms and take in a hearty dose of culture inside this musical landmark and ode to the Stax sound.

Find Stax Museum of American Soul Music at 926 E. McLemore Avenue.


Big River Crossing

There isn’t much to see on either end, but you’ll get to claim bragging rights of crossing over the Mississippi River from Memphis into Marianna, Arkansas.

Opened October 22, 2016, Big River Crossing is the longest public pedestrian/bike bridge across the Mississippi.

It’s a good mile across on the Harahan Bridge, perfect for walking off breakfast from Edge Alley or many other eclectic/historic eateries around town.

About midway through the bridge, you’ll find a state border sign for photo ops. Big River Crossing is accessible from sunrise to 10 pm daily.


Beale Street Historic District

Here’s where you’ll find a couple of streets (pedestrian-only in the evenings) filled with colourful neon signage bearing the names of blues clubs.

Beale Street also contains the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, The Orpheum and several restaurants. Make sure to visit at night if you’re a neon fan!


Crosstown Concourse

Once a Sears distribution center, Crosstown Concourse opened two years ago after major renovations following the closure and demise of both the Sears store (located on its lower floors) and the distribution center. This Art-deco building once housed 1,500 employees.


In 2010, The Crosstown Arts project started to revive the 1920’s building for mixed-use urban apartments and retail space.

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Here you’ll find several eateries, art exhibits, retail shops, cafes, a fitness center, health and education spaces, open library, office space plus 270 apartments that occupy floors seven through ten.


This intelligently-designed vertical complex is a brilliant example of giving a historic building a new life (photos along the hallways of one of the sections show just how decrepit the building had become in the post-Sears years).


It’s a neat space to hang out in for a couple of hours.

Peabody Ducks

Peabody Duck March

There’s one male and four females on the team, and twice daily, these well looked-after ducks are led from their Royal Duck Palace on the roof of the Peabody Hotel, into the center elevator, down to the lobby and along a red carpet as they “march” to their pond for the day.

This beloved tradition began back in 1940 when Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former animal trainer at Barnum and Bailey Circus, offered his duck-marching idea to the hotel as a promotional gig — it lasted him 50 years. He retired in 1991 and passed away the next year.

Peabody Hotel Memphis Duckmaster Doug Weatherford
[Peabody Hotel Memphis Duckmaster Doug Weatherford]

With a background in both hotel management and history, Doug Weatherford is one of two Duckmasters that oversee the 11 am and 5 pm march through the beautiful lobby. The ducks’ ornate fountain is made of Italian Travertine marble.

Throughout the day, the ducks swim around, nibble at their food and quack amongst themselves until 5 pm, when they march back on the red carpet and make their way home on the elevator for the night.

Peabody Ducks

The Peabody Duck March draws a crowd each and every day, with kids seated on the floor at each side of the carpet, excitedly awaiting the ducks. And although the march only lasts about 15 seconds (I highly recommend video as they’re just too fast for a proper photo op), the scene puts a smile on the faces of young and old alike.

Make sure to arrive a half hour before each session. The duckmaster on duty gives a brief historical talk prior to the march.

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And speaking of history, following the 11 am march, Doug often gives hotel history tours (lasting about 1.5 hours) for a modest $10 fee (he’s also available privately for city walking tours for eight to 10 people, so ask about his tours when you see him).


Graceland Mansion

Without a doubt, touring Graceland should be high on your list of Memphis sights. There’s Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion, then across the road, Memphis at Graceland, a large multi-building complex containing numerous exhibitions, one cooler than the next.

Elvis owned two private airplanes, a fleet of classic cars and motorcycles plus a massive collection of outfits and jewellery.

[EP’s media room in the basement of Graceland]

At 200,000 square feet, Memphis at Graceland houses it all! You’ll also get a glimpse behind Sun Studios and the dozens of artists who’ve been influenced by The King over the years.


There are several souvenir shops too, so plan on spending some time (and dime) shopping while here. Graceland is located at 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard.


National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum is located adjacent to the Lorraine Motel, site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968.


The Lorraine welcomed black travellers in a time when most hotels only served whites. Stax recording artists such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett were regulars here. Following Dr. King’s death, the Lorraine’s business declined and the building went into foreclosure.


This incredible museum, founded in 1991, not only preserves a moment in time when a great leader was brought down by a single bullet fired from a Remington Model 760 rifle, but showcases the African American fight for equality, from slavery and Jim Crow to desegregation and beyond. It serves as both a legacy and turning point in history.

The exhibit continues with a focus on a room in the former boarding house across the street where the bullet was allegedly fired from. Several more displays look into the manhunt for the assassin up to the moment of his arrest.

Allow several hours to take it all in.

The National Civil Rights Museum is located at 450 Mulberry Street.

[Birdcap mural detail inside Crosstown Concourse]

My visit to Memphis was sponsored by Memphis Tourism. Opinions, as always, are my own.

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