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Memphis, a City of Music and More


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VOICE ONE:

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Faith Lapidus. This week, learn about a city in the South that helped give the world rock and roll and blues music. Come with us to Memphis, Tennessee.

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VOICE ONE:

A future president of the United States helped build Memphis. Andrew Jackson and two other men started the city as a settlement in eighteen nineteen. They chose the place where the Wolf River flowed into the Mississippi River. Jackson named the community after the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis along the Nile.

The Memphis of modern America is the biggest city in the state of Tennessee. More than one million people live in the Memphis area. Six hundred fifty thousand of them live in the city. Memphis is a center of business, industry and transportation.

Memphis grew when a railroad bridge was completed across the Mississippi River in eighteen ninety-two. The bridge increased trade between states in the East and the Southwest. By nineteen hundred, Memphis was the world’s largest market for cotton and wood products.

VOICE TWO:

In the southern part of the city is one of the most famous streets in America, Beale Street. W.C. Handy worked there as a musician in the early nineteen hundreds. The African American composer is known as the “Father of the Blues.”

In nineteen sixteen, W.C. Handy wrote a song about the famous street. Here is Louis Armstrong singing “Beale Street Blues.”

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VOICE ONE:

At music festivals or many other places in Memphis, you are almost sure to hear another song written by W.C. Handy. In fact, you have already heard it. The song is called "Memphis Blues."

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VOICE TWO:

More than sixty percent of the people in the city of Memphis are black. Memphis is home to the National Civil Rights Museum. Visitors learn about the history of the American civil rights movement. The museum is next to the place where Martin Luther King Junior was murdered.

On April fourth, nineteen sixty-eight, a white man named James Earl Ray shot the civil rights leader. Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support waste collection workers on strike against the city. Most of the workers were black.

In nineteen ninety-one, voters in Memphis elected the first black mayor of the city. The National Civil Rights Museum opened that same year.

VOICE ONE:

Also in nineteen ninety-one, the famed blues singer and guitarist B.B. King opened his own blues club on Beale Street.

B.B. King is known for songs like this one, called "Caldonia."

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People who come to Tennessee can also see a huge bronze statue of B.B. King at the Tennessee Welcome Center.

But blues music is not the only kind of music connected with Memphis. Many experts say rock and roll began there. And a man named Sam Phillips played a big part.

VOICE TWO:

Sam Phillips was a white record producer in Memphis in the nineteen fifties. He started the Memphis Recording Service and the Sun Record Company. He produced records by local black musicians.

Sam Phillips also produced early recordings by Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. One day, an eighteen-year-old truck driver came to the studio to record a song to give to his mother. That young man was Elvis Presley.

Sam Phillips produced Elvis Presley’s first real record on July fifth, nineteen fifty-four. It was called “That’s All Right.” It helped launch rock 'n' roll into international popularity.

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VOICE ONE:

Today, people from around the United States and around the world visit Memphis. Tourism is a major industry. The most popular place to visit in Memphis is Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. He lived there for twenty years until his death on August sixteenth, nineteen seventy-seven. The man known as the King of Rock 'n' Roll is buried on the grounds of Graceland, along with his parents.

Memphis also celebrates Elvis Presley with an Elvis Week. Elvis Week two thousand five is August eighth through the sixteenth. Events planned at Graceland and other places in the city include parties, dancing and music. Other activities are the Official Elvis Collectors Club Conference and the Elvis Presley International Five-Kilometer Run and Fun Walk.

VOICE TWO:

Something else to see in Memphis is the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. Several years ago the Smithsonian Institution created a collection for that museum. It was the Smithsonian’s first permanent exhibition outside Washington and New York. The museum is now operated under the city government.

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum explores the music and culture of the city. It shows how blues, country, and soul music came together in Memphis.

VOICE ONE:

There is a large and beautiful hotel in Memphis called the Peabody. It was built in eighteen sixty-nine. Many famous people have stayed at the Peabody. But it is also known for some birds that live in a special place on top of the hotel.

Every morning, the Peabody Marching Ducks ride an elevator down to the first floor. Five mallards march across the main room of the hotel to a small pool of water where they spend the day. Every afternoon, the ducks leave their pool and march back across the room. They ride the elevator back up to their home. People gather to watch the Peabody Marching Ducks.

VOICE TWO:

Many people visit Memphis for special events held each year. These include the month-long Memphis in May International Festival. The events at the festival celebrate the traditions of the city. One of those traditions, of course, is music. Part of Memphis in May is the Beale Street Music Festival. It is one of the largest music festivals in the country.

One of the performers at the Beale Street Music Festival this year was Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis. Here is a song from "Now What," her new album. The song is called "Thanx."

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VOICE ONE:

Another Memphis tradition is food, including spicy pork slow-cooked over a smoky fire. In fact, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest just took place. Other traditional foods in Memphis are fried chicken, catfish, fried green tomatoes and pecan pie.

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Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Faith Lapidus. Our programs can be found on the Internet at voaspecialenglish.com. And our e-mail address is special@voanews.com. We hope you join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

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