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The Musical Heritage of Tennessee

2 November 2016

From rock 'n' roll, to country and soul, it's easy to see why Tennessee is known by many as the 'music capital' of the United States.

First up, there is Bristol, the 'birthplace of country music'. Although country music in itself had been going commercially since 1922, the Bristol sessions of 1927 have often been known as the spark that ignited the fire of the country music phenomenon. These sessions allowed country music to be catapulted into the mainstream, setting off the careers of the Carter Family, and Jimmie Rodgers, who is heralded as 'the Father of Country Music'. The effect that these recordings had in the music industry of the United States is still felt today. In 2015, nearly 90 years after the original recordings took place, an album paying homage to them was released, featuring some of the biggest stars of country music in the world today, including Dolly Parton and Doyle Lawson.

Nashville took over from Bristol to become the new home of country music, with the growth of the world famous Grand Ole Opry, which started as a radio station in 1925, and now holds weekly country music concerts to worldwide renown. Becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry Hall of Fame cements an artist in the history of country music, and members include the Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson.

The music changes now from the country music of Nashville to the soul and blues of Memphis. Although the blues has been present in America since the early 19th century, the laid back, sultry sound reached commercial success in 1912, when W.C. Handy is rumoured to have written 'St Louis Blues' in a bar on Beale Street.

'The home of the blues', Beale Street, is one of the most famous areas in Memphis, with bars lining the street that pour out music at all hours of the day and night. Every year, Beale Street plays host to the International Blues Challenge, with over 200 acts descending on it to be crowned the winner of this five-day musical extravaganza.

Memphis is also known for its soul music, which was most famously produced by the iconic Stax Records. Founded by Jim Steward and Estelle Axton in 1957, this is the recording company that launched the careers of soul superstars like Otis Redding and Booker T, and is still producing soul music to this day.

Memphis is also home to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, which pays homage to the musicians from every background that helped create the musical legacy that Memphis now holds, with inductees including soul legends Sam & Dave and Willie Mitchell.

Blues and soul are not the only musical offerings Memphis has given to the world, but also the King of rock 'n' roll himself, Elvis Presley. After moving to Memphis from Mississippi at age 13, the young Elvis Presley was discovered by the then Memphis-based Sun Records in 1953 when he came in to record a song for his mother's birthday, coming into the public eye in 1956, with 'Heartbreak Hotel'. His fame climbed throughout his life, and continued to skyrocket even after his death in 1977, being cited as the catalyst for modern music, inspiring musicians such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan. The home of Elvis Presley, Graceland, still stands in Memphis, and is used as a museum dedicated to the life of The King.

If you want to explore the music of Tennessee, why not join us on our 'Tracks of the Deep South' tour, and discover Nashville and Memphis on an exciting holiday by rail. 

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