Memphis has a proud heritage and namesake.
Back in ancient Egypt, Memphis was the ancient capital of Aneb-Hetch. It was home to a powerful civilization next to one of the world’s most powerful rivers, the Nile. These days Memphis is known as a major U.S. city in the southwest corner of Tennessee next to the Mississippi River. The city on the bluff has a rich history and has been vital to the success of the United States since its founding on May 22, 1819. It was incorporated Dec. 19, 1826, by John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson. Now those last names are major streets where we frequently have wrecks.
Speaking of negative things, my hometown is recognized for violence, declining schools and stupidity from residents to our leaders.
Memphis is the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On April 4, 1968, King was shot at the Lorraine Motel. He was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital and was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. that day.
His death is a part of American and Memphis history. Those events led to his birthday of Jan. 15, 1929, becoming a national holiday. Now every third Monday in January is recognized across the nation as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
To be a proud Memphian means to acknowledge the bad things about the city. Sometimes you have to overlook the misery of Memphis and realize we have a foundation of promise.
This city is blessed with amazing resources like FedEx, AutoZone, the Memphis Grizzlies, Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, University of Memphis, Memphis Redbirds, International Paper and much more. The Bluff City is filled with rich traditions from being a cotton hub to a major trading post and music mecca.
Memphis is the birthplace of the greatest wrestler, Ric Flair, and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Other celebrity notables are actors Kathy Bates, Morgan Freeman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Cybill Shepherd, Dixie Carter and George Hamilton. Other Memphis connections are Michael Jeter, broadcaster Tim McCarter, media personality Rick Dees, game show host Wink Martindale, Pulitzer Prize-winner Peter Taylor and singers Justin Timberlake, Al Green, Three 6 Mafia and Ingram Hill. We can even claim fashion designers Pat Kerr Tigrett and Dana Buchman and author/historian Shelby Foote.
There is so much more to be proud of when it comes to Memphis, like Jerry “The King” Lawler to Larry Finch. So this week’s Best Sellers’ List will count down the top 10 things I am proudest of as a Memphian.
10. Hollywood South
For several years Memphis was used as a secret location for motion pictures. Our city has the perfect backdrop to become New England, any Southern city or an ideal Midwest town. While we complain about our weather here, Hollywood loves our four seasons.
Here is a list of films that featured the M-Town primarily in major film productions: “Mystery Train” (1988), “Great Balls of Fire!” (1989), “The Firm” (1993), “The Client” (1994), “A Family Thing” (1996), “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996), “The Rainmaker” (1997), “Road to Graceland” (1998), “Cast Away” (2000), “The Queens of Comedy” (2001), “21 Grams” (2003), “Hustle & Flow” (2005), “Walk the Line” (2005), “Forty Shades of Blue” (2005), “Black Snake Moan” (2007), “In the Valley of Elah” (2007), “Walk Hard” (2007) and “The Open Road” (2008).
9. Home of W.C. Handy
The iconic names of great music producers in Memphis read like royalty with Willie Mitchell, Isaac Hayes, Alex Chilton, Johnny Cash, Kirk Whalum, Jesse Winchester and Blackout.
The grandfather of them all is William Christopher Handy. The boy born in Alabama became known to the world as W.C. Handy with his work in Memphis. He was known as a composer, musician and the Father of the Blues.
Handy even had a theater in the Orange Mound community that rivaled the Apollo in Harlem, N.Y. He was one of the most influential songwriters in the United States with the blues.
Handy help influence musicians of his time and gave them exposure. His work laid the foundation for a lot of the music we enjoy today in many genres.
8. Tom Lee Park
Each year Tom Lee Park becomes the home of Music Fest in Memphis during Memphis in May. Thousands of people come from across the world to enjoy several types of music, usually on the muddy soil of Tom Lee Park.
The Park is a city park located to the immediate west of Downtown Memphis, overlooking the Mississippi River. It is about 30 acres parallel to the Mississippi River for about a mile long. It is named after Tom Lee, who became a hero on May 8, 1925, saving 32 people from a capsized riverboat.
Unveiled in 2006, a bronze monument by sculptor David Alan Clark was dedicated. It shows Lee, a black man, leaning out of his little boat to grab the hand of a helplessly flailing white businessman. The man is grabbing a scrap of wood in the water.
Speaking of statues, they are made to teach history and remind us of important events that shaped our current environment. I love history and think all statues serve a purpose. Don’t hide any part of history whether you deem it good or bad.
7. Elvis called Memphis home
Graceland is a tourist destination for people across the world. This past Jan. 8 Elvis Presley Boulevard was littered with the late entertainer’s fans to celebrate his birthday. Many of them will be back in August to endure the heat and commemorate his death date.
For one of the most celebrated artists in U.S. American history to call Memphis home is something to sing about. No matter where Elvis went or did, he always returned home to Memphis.
Tupelo is his birthplace and the good folks in Hawaii stake claim to him. But Elvis would clearly tell you Memphis was his hometown.
He left a palace called Graceland, which is still benefiting our city with tourism dollars and rich history.
6. Barbecue capital of the world
If you’re going to enjoy Memphis music or a night on the town, you need something good to eat. The best thing to partake in would be some Memphis-style barbecue.
After World War II, several joints opened in Memphis, serving barbecue. In less than 100 years, the Bluff City had people making voyage to taste our pulled pork, dry ribs, barbecue nachos, barbecue spaghetti and much more.
Over the years our “competition” came from three other regions: Carolina, Kansas City and Texas. Our friends in the Deep South use beef. They are disqualified. Just north, they have great sauce but inferior meat. And on the Atlantic, they use a vinegar-based sauce. One word for that – ewwwwwww.
Memphis-style barbecue is mostly made using pork, usually ribs and shoulders. We can still smoke the beef and chicken, too. Our sauce is the boss as a combination of sweet and spicy. Memphis can give you ribs wet or dry. We won’t “rub” you the wrong way.
The best from across the world come to Memphis with their barbecue to get our approval. Memphis-style barbecue has become well-known due to the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest held each Memphis in May. The event has been listed in Guinness World Records as the largest pork barbecue contest in the world. The event is regularly covered by national and international television networks such as The Food Network and the BBC and attracts over 100,000 visitors.
5. Songs about Memphis
There have been more than 400 songs recorded about Memphis. There is even a countdown of the top 100. From rap to country music, Memphis is a great inspiration for artists. Even greats like Michael McDonald live here to study music and get motivated for their next project.
With so many to choose from, my favorite “Memphis” song is “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn. The classic from 1991 breaks down a visit to the Delta city. He notes little jewels about the city and references the rich history.
The song was later sampled by Memphis native rapper Yo Gotti. “Walking in Memphis” is beloved by many in this city. It just creates a sense of pride as soon as it is played. And the sweet, smooth rhythm of the original song makes you reflective of your favorite things about the city.
4. Artesian well system
I’ve been to Italy and France. I would punch my arm through the water flowing from the shower head and it come out dry.
Close to the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve vacationed in a couple of cities. Brown water doesn’t wet my appetite.
Even before those experiences, I knew Memphis had the best water in the world. I count my blessings for the artesian wells in Memphis.
Memphis has one of the largest artesian well systems in the world. This aquifer contains more than 100 trillion gallons of water that fell to the Earth as long as 2,000 years ago. It first became available to the city in 1887.
Several workers have been dedicated to keep the system fresh and producing the best water in the world.
Any Memphian will tell you on a hot summer day and you’ve been outside all day, a cup of water straight out of the tap is so refreshing.
3. National Civil Rights Museum
The death of Dr. King eventually had some positive effects, one of them being the National Civil Rights Museum. The Lorraine Motel is now the home to a complex of museums and historic buildings. It holds exhibits that trace the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present. When you have a chance, go down to 450 Mulberry St. It’s open besides Dr. King Day and April 4.
Since its opening in 1991, the museum helps bring to life all the historic photos and imagery of the Civil Rights Movement. Just a few years ago, renovations improved the educational experience.
Death on the balcony of the complex has brought to life the history for generations to come. In Dr. King’s death, children for generations have a chance to learn about unity, love and judging others fairly. The National Civil Rights Museum is a great platform for those lessons.
2. St. Jude’s impact
Tireless, dedicated work takes place almost nonstop at 262 Danny Thomas Place. Here is my salute to the staff of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Founded in 1962, it is a pediatric treatment and research facility focused on children’s catastrophic diseases, particularly leukemia and other cancers. No family has to pay for treatment. The hospital costs about $2.4 million a day to run. So the many donations and charities have helped this facility save many lives.
I’ve been blessed to interview a few St. Jude survivors over the years. The tales of perseverance are all genuine and remind you how important St. Jude is to Memphis and the world.
They bring awareness to fighting childhood cancers. St. Jude is on the front line of research that will save many lives in the near future.
The campus is a beautiful part of our skyline. The upgrades and maintenance make it a welcoming sight. Then the people inside make it even more beautiful. They are caring and loving to their patients. That’s why countless celebrities go visit when in town.
Those who have to visit St. Jude are grateful for the love shown to the facility because it gives their child a chance to live longer and possibly beat cancer.
1. Memphis music history
Sun Studios, Stax Records and Beale Street are just three of the major foundations of Memphis music. Memphis is known as “Home of the Blues and The Birthplace of Rock ’n’ Roll.” The shorter version of that is “The Real Music City” – sorry, Nashville.
To validate my claim, let’s take some of the biggest genres of music: Rock ’n’ roll, gospel, pop, rap, R&B soul and funk music. Now I will apply a Memphis-based or Memphis-born artist to each category.
In rock ’n’ roll, let me toss out Elvis Presley. Even with hard rock, we have Saliva. In gospel, I like my chance with Aretha Franklin and Presley. Back in the day Piggly Wiggly and Big Star were major grocery stores. The latter became the namesake of Pop band Big Star to pay tribute to the establishment.
Rap music, the first Oscar-winning song by a rap artist or group was from Three 6 Mafia. In R&B music, we can throw out names like Al Green, Otis Redding, Justin Timberlake and Ann Peebles. And we gave birth to a funk pioneer with Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire fame.
Oh, by the way with country music, Johnny Cash did some of his best work here in Memphis.
The Real Music City is the heart and soul of American music.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.