Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

Walking in Memphis

Then I’m walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

I took an hour for lunch today and just like the song says I went walking in Memphis. 

For a musician, this town is full of history.  They say the blues was born on Beale, two blocks over from the Peabody Hotel where I’m staying. After decades of decay and decline, Beale Street is alive once again with blues clubs and restaurants.  It was here in 1909 that W.C. Handy wrote the first blues song, a campaign theme for the mayor called Boss Crump Blues.  After the campaign, Handy renamed the song Memphis Blues.  Handy would go on to write standards such as St. Louis Blues and, of course, Beale Street Blues (“If Beale Street could talk, If Beale Street could talk, a million married men would take their bed up and walk…”)

I popped into B.B. King’s blues club—it was way too early for anything to be happening there—just to say I’ve been there.  B.B King’s real name is Riley (what a great name!) B. King.  Shortly after arriving on Beale Street he became known as the “Beale Street Blues Boy” which was shortened to “Blues Boy” and then to “B.B.”  Just down the road from the Peabody on Union Avenue is Sun Studios, where Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and some fellow named Elvis got their starts and recorded their early hits.  It’s a little hole in the wall on the corner, really, but it’s chock full of music history. 

Saw the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
Then I watched him walk right through

Then there’s the Peabody itself.  The Peabody Hotel has been an integral part of Memphis for more than 100 years.  The original Peabody opened in 1869, and the current incarnation at 149 Union Avenue opened its doors in 1925.  The Peabody is best known for the ducks that for most of the last 75 years have marched in and out of the hotel lobby (in at 11 am, out at 5 pm) via elevator and red carpet from their rooftop Duck Palace to the marble fountain in the Grand Lobby to the strains of Sousa’s King Cotton March.  Much more than just a novelty, this hotel has long been a centerpiece of southern culture.  Historian David Cohn (as far as I know no relation to Marc Cohn, the artist who wrote and performed “Walking in Memphis”) wrote “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of The Peabody Hotel… If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby… ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta…”

They’ve got catfish on the table, They’ve got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you when you haven’t got a prayer
But boy you’ve got a prayer in Memphis

The national Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ is here in Memphis this week, and there really is gospel in the air— and I’m not just talking about music, although there’s lots of that here this week.  There’s gospel in the air in the way these dear folks conduct themselves, practicing what they preach in their speech and conduct.  They’ve made me feel welcomed and loved.

Now Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would do a little number,
And I sang with all my might
She said, “Tell me are you a Christian child’
And I said “Ma’am I am tonight”

Then I’m walking in Memphis…

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