Enjoy a slice of Memphis

THERE are bound to be some extra high jinks in Memphis this year, as they ­celebrate the 60th anniversary of a musical milestone.

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Elvis Presley recorded That's Alright Mama at Sun Studio  in Memphis on July 5, 1954
Elvis Presley recorded That's Alright Mama at Sun Studio in Memphis on July 5, 1954

It was on July 5, 1954 that Elvis Presley recorded That's Alright Mama at Sun Studio in Union Avenue. After which, as they say, nothing would ever be the same again.

In fact, Elvis had recorded at Sun Studio a couple of times previously, but had paid for the privilege, saying the discs were presents for his mother.

This monumental musical breakthrough came about by accident.

Sun's proprietor, Sam Phillips, had arranged for the young unknown to sing a couple of songs with guitarist Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black.

The results were far from satisfactory, and they were on the point of packing in when Elvis started to fool around with his guitar and sang "That's Alright Mama", for the sheer fun of it.

When Moore and Black joined in, Phillips burst into the studio, yelling at them to "back up" so he could find a point at which to start recording.

With Graceland, Presley's home, being its major tourist attraction, Memphis is inevitably dominated by The King.

But there is far more to this city than the story and legacy of a single performer.

There are fabulous fairs and festivals, exhibitions and events throughout the year, as well as a much wider musical legacy.

And without wishing to detract in any way from the Presley impact, it is worth noting that Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and the legendary B B King also recorded at Sun Studio. I'll return to the musical heritage in a moment.

Let's take a wider look at the fascinating city of Memphis and some of what it offers its visitors.

For a start, there's a year-long programme of festivals and special events - Memphis in May covers the customs, cultures and heritage of the city, and the same month sees Greek and Italian food festivals, along with a mammoth barbecue event.

The prestigious National Civil Rights Museum has just completed a massive renovation, and in the spring of this year the Beale Street Landing project is to open.

Among its attractions is a children's play area with water features, and the famous Memphis river boats will arrive and depart from its dock.

One of the city's more unusual attractions is to be found in Mud Island River Park. A scale model representing 1000 miles of the mighty Mississippi River runs for half a mile through the park.

Memphis has a Carnival, too, which - while not as well-known as the Mardi Gras of New Orleans - is a great excuse to party.

What makes it special is that it combines the spectacle of carnival floats and "Krewes" with the tradition of St Patrick's day, as the "Silky Sullivan" parade is held on March 15.

There will, of course, be extra events and attractions at Graceland in this 60th anniversary year, but to get the most and the best out of Memphis, don't overlook its other attractions, and the other outstanding talents that the city claims as its own.

Stroll into W C Handy Park and seek out the statue of the great man himself.

And, pay a visit to his home which, while not as famous as Graceland, has an equally important place in musical history.

Travel Facts

America As You Like It offers a five-night Memphis package from £767 per person including return international flights, car hire and accommodation. Price based on two people sharing. For more details, contact 020 8742 8299, sales@americaasyoulikeit.com or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com

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