Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Blues City; Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis is to the blues what Nashville is to country music. Memphis, named for the ancient Egyptian city, historically thrived as a major port on the Mississippi River, particularly for shipment of cotton. But Memphis bills itself as the "home of the blues and the birthplace of rock 'n' roll." It was the home of Elvis Presley, and Graceland still draws throngs of tourists. Because we visited Graceland a year and a half ago, and I wrote about it extensively, we skipped it this trip. Instead, we took a bus tour that included Beale St., the Victorian Village, St. Jude's Children's Hospital founded by Danny Thomas, and the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Our base of operations was the Tom Sawyer RV Park, located across the river in West Memphis, Arkansas. Their slogan is "We're so close to the river, sometimes we're in it!" Every spring, the campground floods and parts of it are closed. At this time of the year, however, the river level was many feet below us. We enjoyed watching the enormous barges float by, being pushed or pulled by tug boats. Here is a view from the camp on the river bank, just steps from our RV.

I took this photo using the "stitch" program on our new Canon digital camera, so it's three photos taken horizontally. It's not lined up perfectly, guess I need a bit of practice with it.

For our guided tour, we drove back across the river to downtown. The homes of the wealthy, including actress Cybill Shepherd, are perched high on a bluff overlooking the river. A few blocks away, Beale St. is the attraction for music lovers - lined with clubs, restaurants and stores.

One of the most famous blues musician, the legendary B. B. King, has his own club and adjacent retail store, and you can hear him play a couple of evenings a month.

He also has a brass musical note embedded in the sidewalk, as do Eric Clapton, the Staples Singers ("I'll Take You There" from the 70's), and many others. It's Memphis' answer to the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Turning off Beale St. onto Main St., traveling for a number of blocks, our bus took us to the site of MLK's assassination. The Lorraine Motel has been preserved exactly as it was in the sixties.

The site where Dr. King was standing, on the second floor balcony, is marked by a white wreath. Two white limos, including his, remain parked where they were on that day.

The Lorraine Motel now houses the National Civil Rights Museum - the perfect tribute to honor a great man.

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