The World Cafe crew recently traveled to Memphis, Tenn., the fifth destination in our Sense of Place series looking for great music, barbecue and the ghost of Elvis. We were drawn to the city's rich past, as honored in Memphis' outstanding museums, especially The National Civil Rights Museum and The Stax Museum. And, of course, there's Graceland, which — while preserving Elvis' exorbitant, over-the-top 1970s décor — surprised us by being smaller than it's become in our minds.
But the places that moved me the most were the living, breathing parts of Memphis. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is just part of The Soulsville Foundation. The Stax Academy teaches music after school, while The Soulsville Charter School prepares students for college. To see rows of kids marching from class to class, and to witness the mentoring from the staff, was uplifting. It's all about the community using the past for the future at Soulsville. Another high point was being taken by Rev. John Wilkins to Royal Studios, where Willie Mitchell recorded all of Al Green's hits. It's not a museum; in fact, Boz Scaggs recently finished recording there. You can see my reaction walking into the vocal booth and seeing the microphone into which Green sang "Let's Stay Together" and "Tired Of Being Alone" on our Rev. John Wilkins video. Then there was the late Saturday-night hang at Wild Bill's juke joint, far from Beale Street, where locals got all the way down — on the floor — dancing while the quarts of Bud flowed freely.
We brought the Memphis vibe back with us. You can see it on the videos and hear it on the radio show. If you have a chance to visit, take it. Eat fried Chicken at Gus', have a chopped-pork sandwich at Payne's barbecue and discover where all that great American music came from.