This past week, my family and I spent a few days in Memphis TN. None of us had been there before so we thought it would be a great new family adventure. Of course we went to the usual places like Beale Street, the Rock-n-Soul Museum and much to my surprise, the Peabody Hotel for the duck run. Yes, we gathered with hundreds of other tourists, lined up along the red carpet to watch 6 duck waddle from the elevator to the fountain in the middle of the lobby. This is a big deal! My granddaughters thought it was awesome for which I am pleased but really… all of this attention for 6 ducks!
To my surprise, I learned that it was through music that both Black and Whites united together in peace. Memphis is the home of the Blues, which influenced artists like B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, the Staple Sisters and of course the King, Elvis Presley. According to the videos and recordings at the museum, the musicians played and performed together regardless of their color, gender or socioeconomic status. Artists just wanted to play their music, which spread like wildfire to the mainstream listeners and opened the world to the soulful sound of The Blues.
The most anticipated part of our tour led us to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. I have to admit that I am not a diehard fan of his music, however I have always been interested in his life. According to the tour guide, the 2-story brick home has not changed since his death in 1977. The word home was a fitting description, because Graceland had a very lived-in feel with rooms decorated with elegance but few areas would have been classified as untouchable. We also learned that Elvis bought Graceland for $100,000 and furnished it for another $90,000 when he was 22-years-old. So why does this matter? Everything that I heard about Elvis on this trip convinced me that he knew that he was going to be a very successful star. Where did this dirt-poor young man get his confidence from anyway? I envy his confident spirit to believe in himself and his success. Elvis had a fire that could not be quenched. It was easy to see that he got such joy from singing to his fans. His later years tell a different story about a man broken by chemical dependency and the constant demands of being the King. However, I think he will always be remembered as the confident young man who sang joyfully to millions.
So what is my take-away from the trip to Memphis? Despite the fight for civil rights that ended so tragically for Martin Luther King, there was unity through music. A revolution of equality was a hard fought battle that was fueled by the power and courage of the song titled, “We Shall Overcome.” The city of Memphis, in the heat of change, joined gospel and country music together to create a sensation called The Blues. A poor young man named Elvis Presley became a star singing a style of music that changed Rock-n-Roll forever. Memphis was a place of history, music and promise. Oh yes, and BBQ.