Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Tue October 13 2015

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | October 13, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    The Memphis Music Museum Experience

    The Memphis Music Museum Experience

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    Memphis and music are almost synonymous. From visiting a local barbecue joint, to touring famous landmarks, you can't do much in this historic city that doesn't hearken back to some sort of music highlight.

    You can soak up rhythms on Beale Street or head to Graceland, but if you want to really dive into Memphis history, a stop by the Rock n Soul Museum and Stax Museum of American Soul Music is essential. Memphis hosts scads of museums dedicated to music, but I consider these two the best. I was blown away by the assortment of exhibits, memorabilia and recordings on display. Here are some standouts:

    Memphis Rock n Soul Museum

    The fact that the Smithsonian Institution developed the Rock n Soul Museum should give you a few clues about the significance of this destination.  I've never seen a more comprehensive timeline of American popular music. The museum features seven galleries, 30 different instruments used by legendary musicians, 40 wardrobe pieces and three different audio/visual programs.  It's a small museum but a lot is crammed into the space, so it requires at least an afternoon to fully go through the exhibits.  

    A short movie full of archival footage kicks off the tour, then guests are equipped with headsets for an audio tour. You can listen to the narration as well as mix your own playlist of songs from featured artists. Jukeboxes with music from each era sit in every room for fun musical illustration. The tour starts with a display of the rural culture of the Delta, illustrating how the field hollers and gospel songs would evolve into rock n roll.

    After that, it's a panorama of cool history and memorabilia including the piano that Ike Turner played during his Memphis shows, Tina Turner's bright yellow fringed mini dress, photos of a young B.B. King when he was known as Beale Street Blues Boy and Elton John's heart-shaped glasses.

    Contemporary highlights include a teeny tiny gown no bigger than the width of a ruler, worn by Whitney Houston and the outfits worn by hometown boys Three 6 Mafia when they won the Grammy for “It's Hard Out There For a Pimp.”

    Stax Museum of American Soul Music

    The Stax experience starts up before you even enter the famous building. Speakers blasting classic Stax hits like Booker T and the MGs’ “Green Onions” and “I'll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, stream through the parking lot. The iconic Stax finger snap logo dots the sidewalk leading to the museum and a marquee emblazoned with “Soulville USA” greets you at the entrance. The Stax studio was originally a converted movie theater and all the outside theater elements remain intact.

    Inside, the Stax journey begins with a brief film explaining the label's significance. Next, the museum opens up into an actual Mississippi Delta church, circa 1906, revealing the gospel roots of soul music. It's a visual whirlwind after that, with thousands of artifacts filling the space, including Isaac Hayes' gold-trimmed Cadillac, Rufus Thomas' sequined cape and platform boots. The Hall of Records showcases all of the label's albums and singles, lining the walls from floor to ceiling.

    Another standout is the actual Stax studio, complete with original equipment and slanted floor that helped create the gritty sound.

    The only museum in the world dedicated to preserving the legacy of American soul music (there's also a Stax Music Academy and Soulville Charter School) a visit to the Stax Museum demonstrates the far-reaching Memphis music legacy.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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