A Brief History Of Memphis Music

Memphis, Tennessee, is widely regarded as the birthplace of rock and roll. The city has immensely impacted music history, leaving its mark on blues, soul, gospel, and more.

Over the years, Memphis has produced some of music’s most iconic figures, such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. It’s also been home to many influential record labels like Sun Records and Stax Records that have shaped popular culture for decades.

But these are only some of the accolades Memphis has acquired for its music. Here, we discuss the many happenings that made the history of Memphis music.

Early Musical Influences in Memphis

Memphis is steeped in musical tradition and has long influenced American music. The city was the birthplace of blues legend W.C. Handy and later became a major center for Sun Records, which produced early hits from Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

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In the 1960s, Memphis was a popular destination for musical acts worldwide, and it quickly became an epicenter for soul music. Stax Records propelled that genre forward with their releases of stars like Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, and Booker T. & The MGs.

Later in the decade, rock ‘n’ rollers flocked to Memphis to record in legendary spaces like Ardent Studios and Royal Studio. With the emergence of rap and hip-hop, Memphis quickly became a major player in that genre as well. Artists like 8Ball & MJG, Tommy Wright III, Three 6 Mafia, Yo Gotti, and Project Pat made their Memphis an integral part of modern music history.

Today, Memphis music is as vibrant and influential as ever, with many emerging artists continuing the city’s legacy.

The Birth of Rock ‘n Roll & R&B

The 1950s saw the birth of Rock ‘n Roll and R&B in Memphis. In the mid-1950s, some of the most influential early rockers, including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash, recorded at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio in Memphis.

Phillips was a key pioneer in the music industry, as he was one of the first to give White Country and Blues artists the opportunity to record their music. He is also credited with discovering Elvis Presley in 1954 and helping to bring his voice and style into popular music. 

Phillips’ influence on the development of Rock ‘n Roll & R&B was virtually unmatched. He is credited with having helped to shape not only the sound of early rock but also its attitude and style. Additionally, he worked to bring together different musical influences from both white and African American communities in Memphis.

The Rise of Blues & Jazz in Memphis

Memphis was an important stop for African-American musicians, and the city played a major role in the emergence of blues and jazz music. The city’s location on the Mississippi River was a popular destination for traveling musicians from all over the South and one of the main hubs on what came to be known as the “Chitlin’ Circuit.”

This was a series of venues, often in small towns and cities, where African American musicians could perform. It extended from Memphis to Chicago and New York City, passing through many other Southern states.

In the early 20th century, Memphis was a major center for music production. Much of this production occurred in small recording studios dotted the city’s main streets and alleyways. These studios served as incubators for some of the most influential blues and jazz musicians of the time, including W.C. Handy, Furry Lewis, and Gus Cannon.

These artists often played together informally in the city’s parks and on street corners and then recorded their performances in small studios. This allowed them to spread their music across the United States, giving birth to Memphis blues, jazz, and gospel.

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Rap and Hip Hop in the Memphis Music Scene

While the Memphis gospel, blues, and rock n’ roll are mainly responsible for the city’s music hype, rap and hip hop have also significantly impacted the Memphis music scene. Popular rap artists like Yo Gotti, Blac Youngsta, Moneybagg Yo, and Key Glock are from the mid-south city. These rappers carved out a strong presence in the industry and represent the city every chance they got.

Memphis has its unique style of hip-hop. The city’s rap sound is driven by heavy 808s and bass for a darker sound. Memphis rap and hip hop are deeply rooted in the city’s culture, with many songs telling stories about growing up in the Bluff City. From Yo Gotti’s “Down In The DM” to Project Pat’s “Chickenhead” to Moneybagg Yo’s “Do Better,” Memphis rap is a testament to the city’s identity. It is sure to remain prominent in the music industry for years to come.

The Current Landscape of Memphis Music

Today, Memphis music is as vibrant and influential as ever. Thanks to the legacy of its past greats, combined with a new wave of emerging artists from all backgrounds, it continues to be an important hub for music production in the U.S. 

The city has become a melting pot for various musical genres, from soul and blues to rap and hip-hop. Musicians from all over the country, including Memphis natives like juicewrld999 and Young Dolph, are coming together to create a unique fusion that pays homage to the city’s rich music history.

The vibrant music community in Memphis is now supported by numerous festivals and venues, including the Beale Street Music Festival, Memphis Music Fest, Hi-Tone Cafe, MEMFix, and the Levitt Shell. These events offer a platform for emerging artists to showcase their talent while also helping to preserve Memphis’ musical heritage.

Key Takeaways

Memphis has always been a breeding ground for creativity and innovation, and its music scene is still thriving today. No matter what type of sound you’re looking for, Memphis has something to offer. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the city’s music community, and its influence will continue in the years to come.

To recap:

  • Memphis gave birth to careers of great rock n’ roll and R&B greats like Elvis Presley, W.C Handy, Furry Lewis, and Gus Cannon.
  • The Mississippi river bridge was part of the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” which helped to spread blues and jazz music across the US.
  • Rap and hip-hop have also impacted the Memphis music scene, with many artists coming from the city.
  • Memphis music today is a vibrant mix of various genres, ranging from soul and blues to rap and hip-hop.
  • Numerous festivals and venues help preserve the city’s musical heritage while providing an opportunity for emerging artists to showcase their talent.

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