Some of the most influential musicians the world has ever known created their most memorable music in Memphis, Tennessee. From Beale Street and Graceland to Sun Studio and Soulsville, USA, Memphis’ legacy of blues, soul, jazz, and rock and roll is second to none. Here are 11 remarkable talents — and a few outright geniuses — who were, figuratively and literally, made in Memphis.
Michael Ochs ArchivesElvis PresleyElvis Presley (1935 – 1977) forged his unique early sound at Sun Studio, where he recorded two dozen songs. In fact, he paid the studio four bucks to record his first two, “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” when he was just 18. (His family moved to Memphis when he was 13.) The King’s 24 studio albums, six live albums, 20 soundtrack albums and scores of posthumous compilations have sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesJohnny CashA true American original and an icon for rebels everywhere, Johnny Cash (1932 – 2003) released close to a hundred albums over the course of his six-decade career, and influenced countless acts, from Bob Dylan to Norah Jones and U2. Cash recorded his first number one single, “I Walk the Line,” at Memphis’ Sun Studio in 1956.
Paul Natkin/Getty ImagesAretha FranklinAretha Franklin (born in Memphis in 1942) has sold over 75 million records and remains the undisputed “Queen of Soul.” On the strength of immortal recordings like “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman” and her signature rendition of Otis Redding’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” Aretha was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.Rick Diamond/Getty ImagesJustin TimberlakeJustin Timberlake (b. 1981) may only have four studio albums under his belt, but has sold more than 30 million albums and almost 60 million singles, including “SexyBack” and “Cry Me A River.” Before his solo career took off in 2002 with his first album, “Justified,” the Memphis-born musician made a name for himself in the hugely popular boy band, N*SYNC.The Estate of David Gahr/Getty ImagesB.B. KingB.B. King (1925 – 2015), the “King of the Blues,” released more than 50 albums in his six-decade career. Dubbed the “Beale Street Blues Boy” early on, King got his start in the music world as a disc jockey in Memphis. The winner of 15 Grammy Awards, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Tony Frank/Sygma via Getty ImagesOtis ReddingOtis Redding’s (1941 – 1967) intense delivery and passionate stage presence made him a superstar of soul. Recording in Memphis’ Stax Records studio, Redding released six studio albums before his death at just 26 years old, in a plane crash that also killed most of his band and two others. He will always be associated with the beautiful, sweetly sad “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” which he recorded not long before his death and that became the first chart-topping posthumous single in Billboard history in 1968.Paul Natkin/Getty ImagesAlberta HunterAlberta Hunter (1895 – 1984) was a pioneer for black musicians, with a musical career that spanned seven decades. Famed for her live blues performances all over the world in the 1920s and ‘30s, she returned to the stage in her 80s after a 20-year stint as a nurse. Hunter was also a noted songwriter, penning works like Bessie Smith’s famed hit, “Down-Hearted Blues.”Gems/RedfernsIsaac HayesIsaac Hayes (1941 – 2008) was one of the creative masterminds behind Memphis’ Stax Records. He is best known for the musical score he created for the 1971 blaxploitation film classic, “Shaft,” and the enormously popular and influential single, “Soul Man,” which he co-wrote with his creative partner David Porter.
Henry Diltz/Corbis via Getty ImagesBooker T. and the M.G.'sInstrumental funk band Booker T. & the M.G.’s helped shape the sound of Memphis soul. As the house band for Stax Records, they contributed to hundreds of recordings for innumerable acts, including Otis Redding, Bill Withers and other soul and R&B legends. The quartet’s own best-known song was the 1962 single, “Green Onions.” The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.Jan Persson/RedfernsMemphis SlimBorn in Memphis as John Len Chatman (1915 – 1988), Slim taught himself to play the piano after being inspired by his father’s bandmate, the pianist Roosevelt Sykes. He began recording under his father’s name, Peter Chatman, before earning his famous nickname “Memphis Slim” in 1940. Known for his thundering voice and soulful piano chops, Slim played with and led many bands, eventually recording “Nobody Loves Me” (better known as “Every Day I Have the Blues”) which has been performed by artists ranging from B. B. King, Eric Clapton, and Ella Fitzgerald to Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana. Slim created over 500 recordings over the course of his career and was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015.Frans Schellekens/RedfernsGeorge ColemanGeorge Coleman (born in Memphis in 1935) is in the seventh decade of his renowned jazz career. The brilliant saxophonist grew up in Memphis’ vibrant music scene alongside B.B. King, and went on to play with Ray Charles and Miles Davis, among many others. Coleman has recorded more than two dozen albums over the course of his career, including the classic, “My Funny Valentine” with Miles Davis in 1964.