The land of the Delta Blues has not scored well in Travel + Leisure magazine’s latest survey – the city has come dead last in the annual America’s Favorite Cities reader poll. So does Memphis really deserve this ranking? Cheapflights.co.uk finds out…
Visitors to downtown Memphis – which stretches along the bluff overlooking the cocoa-coloured Mississippi in Tennessee – voted the city last in terms of environmental friendliness, safety, attractiveness of its locals and cleanliness. Memphis – the largest city in Tennessee – even ranked bottom when it came to its coffee and pizza.
But hang on a minute. It can’t be all bad – can it? Travel and Leisure author Katrina Brown Hunt wrote of the city’s “great bar scenes, live music and quirky people watching”, while Eldra White, Memphis City Beautiful Commission’s executive director, said, “From my personal experience, we get lots of positive comments about how beautiful the city is. Our canopy of trees, people say it’s park-like.”
Ms White also references a new “Memphis Makeover” campaign designed to improve the city’s cleanliness and liveability, which is being rolled out soon by Mayor AC Wharton.
Kevin Kane, president of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, told US Life Post, “When one of these lists comes out, we try to go do some self-analysis and say, ‘How true is it? Are there some positive things going on they didn’t see?’ I think there obviously were positives they overlooked.
“Obviously from a tourism standpoint, it’s a black eye for the city. These charts and reports, there’s somebody printing one every month. Sometimes we come out on the positive end, sometimes we come out on the negative end,” he added.
The city ranked well in the live music category, taking eighth place. And it’s this area in which the city really shines. That such a physically unremarkable concrete jungle has spawned such a remarkable musical history is part of what makes Memphis appealing.
For many, a week in Memphis is not just a holiday – it’s a pilgrimage. The historic Sun Studios, located in a run-down neighbourhood a few miles east of downtown Memphis, was where Elvis Aaron Presley recorded his first hit, That’s All Right. Other legends including Muddy Waters, Ike Turner and Howlin’ Wolf recorded their blues recordings here too.
Check out The Memphis Music Hall of Fame, which is bursting with artifacts and memorabilia from famous blues and rock ‘n’ roll performers, including Elvis himself, who made Memphis the catalyst for many explosions of American music this century.
Elvis’ former home, Graceland, on Elvis Presley Boulevard, is the most visited tourist attraction in the confederate states of the US, attracting 600,000 visitors every year. Its Jungle Room still has the original pea green shagpile carpets, wood-panelled walls and copious cacti. The audio-guided tour takes visitors past his eclectic melee of costumes, awards and cars.
Known as the birthplace of the Blues, Beale Street, running through the heart of Memphis, is thronged with tourists drawn by its rich musical heritage. They recognise this street as the true heart of the Deep South, with the legacy of its people, history and music living on in every street corner. Blues legend WC Handy spoke for many when he said: ‘‘I would rather be here than any place I know.”
Another must-see in Memphis is the National Civil Rights Museum where you can find out more about Martin Luther King’s big Dream. The old Lorraine Motel, where Luther King was assassinated, has also been restored and dedicated to the history of the civil rights movement.
While Memphis may never have the beauty or attractions of many other US cities, its gritty history of civil rights movements and music that is still loved today makes it much more than just a concrete jungle. Its glorious past has made this unassuming little city beautiful.