Jan. 8 marks one of my favorite days of the year, and I’m happy so many visitors from around the world travel to Memphis every year to celebrate with me on my birthday. What, people travel to Memphis to celebrate a former resident’s birthday instead of mine? OK, OK, I get it. I was born on Elvis’ last living birthday in 1977 so I’m pretty used to sharing my big day with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. If you’re traveling to Memphis this week to celebrate Elvis’ birthday, I have a few places you should visit this week. As a former employee of Graceland, I feel I have some insight that will make your Elvis birthday celebration in Memphis a little more meaningful.
Yes, I was born on Elvis’ last living birthday, a fact that bought me extra cred with Graceland visitors when I worked at the mansion as a tour guide back in college. I worked at Graceland because I was an Elvis fan, something that did come about because of the shared birthday. Growing up, I enjoyed watching Elvis movies. When they came on TV in the winter I knew it was birthday time (as opposed to the August viewings that honor Elvis’ birthday.
Here are my five ways to celebrate Elvis’ birthday in Memphis.
I’ll start with the obvious: visit Graceland. Chances are if you’re an Elvis fan and find yourself in Memphis this week, you have plans to visit the mansion in Whitehaven that Elvis Presley called home until his death there on Aug. 16, 1977. Admission price isn’t cheap; it’s about $40 for an adult to get the platinum package. But it’s worth it for Elvis fans. I’ve always thought the airplanes are a little underwhelming (the gold-plated sink not withstanding). My favorite, other than the massive Gold Record corridor in the mansion, is the automobile museum. Elvis owned some really cool cars. And that classic pink Cadillac is on display.
2. Sun Studio
Without the magic at the little Sun Studio on Union Avenue in Downtown Memphis, I’d venture to guess modern music wouldn’t be the same. Sam Phillips recorded Elvis at Sun back in 1954, to be followed by other greats such as Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. The Sun Studio tour is my favorite tourist attraction in Memphis. It’s authentic and the guides really care about the legacy of this magical space.
3. Lansky Bros.
Follow many of the world’s great musicians who today still shop for cool threads at Lansky Bros., known as the Clothier to the King. Elvis was known for his trendsetting style, and it all came from Lansky’s shop on Beale Street. Today, the store can be found in the lobby of The Peabody Memphis hotel in Downtown.
4. Beale Street
It’s said that Elvis spent many nights of his youth walking Beale Street where he heard the great blues music coming from the street’s clubs. Beale Street was the hub for business and cultural life of black Memphis. And it’s also where many of the great blues musicians from the cotton fields of Mississippi and Arkansas came to play their music. The street today isn’t exactly the historic one filled with blues music that inspired Elvis. But if you go looking for it among all the modern neon lights and frozen drinks, that Memphis feel that helped shape a future King can be found.
5. Experience Memphis
This might be a cop out, considering there really are several other ways to experience Elvis in Memphis. I wish I could tell you to go ride the Zippin’ Pippin’, but Elvis’ favorite roller coaster was moved to Wisconsin when Libertyland closed more than 10 years ago. I’d also love to tell you to go see a show at the Levitt Shell, where Elvis played his first ever concert back in 1955. But the awesomely fun concert season doesn’t start until the spring. You could visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, a wonderful museum where the legendary Stax studios once stood. Elvis did record there. The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and National Civil Rights Museum are both important attractions, too. What I will recommend is see what you can, but just enjoy being in Memphis. There is a reason Elvis spent much of his time here, and why so much of America’s great music has a connection to the region. There is a great soul found only in Memphis.