“If America had a soundtrack, it would be made in Tennessee. The roots of Blues, Rock n Roll and Gospel all originate here. From the world-famous BB King’s to the Loveless Cafe, I delve into the music, food and people that make Tennessee so iconic.”Jessica Soper March 2023
My first stop in Tennessee was Memphis and I had to go straight to the Arcade restaurant, built in the 1920s. The diner was a firm favourite of Rock n Roll’s King – Elvis Presley. You can eat breakfast in Elvis’s booth, and chat with the locals, some of whom even knew Elvis personally. I had to try their speciality sweet potato pancakes with maple syrup, they were so yummy!
Quick fact, I promise it’s an interesting one. In the 1920s, the Loraine Motel was logged into the Green Book as friendly to Black African Americans (If you haven’t come across the history of Green Book its worth delving into) but basically, this meant the likes of BB King, Aretha Franklin and Dr King considered the Loraine to be a safe place. In fact, they were all regulars at Motel. We like to picture them chatting together at the Loraine pool.
It’s interesting to hear the theories on who may have been involved in the assassination of Dr King. Take a walk with a local guide as they point out the place where James Earl Ray shot and killed Dr King, leaving the nation in despair, and sparking the Civil rights movement for generations.
A trip to the National Civil Rights Museum is a must, based at the Loraine Motel. Step inside the bus where Rosa Parkes made her stand, walk under the Selma Bridge and visit the spot where Martin Luther King was assassinated. Prepare yourself with tissues!
Day two and like other Elvis fans’ we chose to pay our respects to Lisa Marie and her son, Benjamin. You’ll need a whole day to explore Graceland and all the exhibits opposite, full of Elvis’ memorabilia. See Elvis’ planes, cars, and show-stopping outfits.
We set out that night for an early dinner and evening cocktails at Itta Bena, located at the back of BB Kings Blues Club, but shh… it’s a BV secret. Then headed to the Tiger and Peacocks located in Overton, where tourists and Memphians both hang out, it’s an exciting venue. We finished the evening at Lafayette Music Room a venue for local songwriters and live music. The Memphian equivalent of the Blue Bird Café.
It’s day three and time for a visit to the Burkle Estate. The museum tells the story of the slaves and those who helped them escape, without the compassion and courage of the Burkle family many of the slaves may have died. Learn the true meaning of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, and again bring tissues.
It’s time to leave Memphis behind on day 4, travelling along a rolling countryside dotted with churches and white picket fences to Nashville, affectionately known as the Music City.
I visited Nashville’s famous sites – the Ryman Auditorium, The Country Music Hall of Fame – a must for any country music fan. My highlight was playing Elvis’ piano at RCA Studio B. When driving from Memphis be sure to stop off at The Loveless Cafe – Y’all will be met with some friendly Southern hospitality and the best biscuits in the South! 😋
My Tennessee road trip is already reaching its end. I leave Music City on day 5 for a more rural setting. Making a quick stop at Leiper’s Fork, just outside Franklin. The small-town charm, unique gift shops and Whisky distillery make for more than one reason to visit. I loved The Fox & Locke, their BBQ and Beans are heavenly.
After a hearty lunch, we headed to Franklin. One of the wealthiest cities in Tennessee. A focal point in Civil War history, it’s quaint, characterful, and great for foodies. The proximity to Nashville and affluent neighbourhoods attracts both celebrities and talented songwriters. Visit Kimbro’s Pickin Parlour a mecca for true Tennessee talent. I’ve never experienced anything like it before!
My journey reached its end on day 6 in the city of Chattanooga. Tucked away in the Southeast mountains along the rolling Tennessee River, it’s home to the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo. This neighbourhood attracts both tourists and locals alike, with restaurants, bars and a BV favourite, the Songbirds Museum. A little insider knowhow – Chattanooga closes on Sundays and Mondays so plan accordingly.
The Tennessee food, music and friendly southern hospitality win us over every time, but it’s time to say goodbye. We have so many highlights – sitting at Elvis’s piano in RCA Studio B, learning the meaning behind the song Swing Low, Sweet Chariot at The Burkle Estate, The National Civil Rights Museum based at the Loraine Motel, Leiper’s Fork and Franklin to name a few. We’ve learnt about the Memphian’s equivalent to the Blue Bird Café and visited the new hot spots in Nashville.
Till next time Y’all…