It’s All About the Music at the Blues Hall of Fame
Memphis has a new way to learn about the blues: the Blues Hall of Fame Museum downtown. I stopped by yesterday to check out our city's newest attraction and the new home for the Blues Foundation.
The record-decorated sidewalk and life-size bronze statue of Little Milton make for a pretty eye-catching front to the museum, which is right across from the grassy plaza in front of the National Civil Rights Museum.
The front room is a gallery space currently showcasing breathtaking photos – mostly black and white – of blues and rock performers from over the years. There's also a small listening area, and tucked away to the side a signed B.B. King guitar on the wall.
After you get your ticket at the counter, you step down into the museum proper. It's filled with the kinds of photos, artifacts, and memorabilia that you'd expect. But it all seems exceptionally well-curated. I could have lingered over each item; everything has a little color or quirk or story to it.
These amorous lyrics were especially cool to see.
The thing that you wouldn't necessarily expect is how much listening is a part of the experience. Each exhibit nook has an interactive touch screen where you can search by song and artist to hear not a narration or a clip, but full-length tracks. Some of the screens have videos.
At the end of the first hall, there are two private listening booths. The front desk attendant says that by the time the Blues Foundation finishes uploaded songs to the database, there will be between 300 and 400 tracks available for listening. You could seriously spend hours in there.
Next, there's a literal hall of fame, listing all 140-odd inductees. Of the 140 inductees, 130 are performers and 120 of those are African American. The other inductees are writers and industry professionals that have contributed to "keeping the blues alive" in one way or another.
What exactly is the Blues Foundation? It's an organization dedicated to the preservation blues music, history, and education. They manage a ton of programs, including the Hall of Fame, Blues Music Awards, and the International Blues Challenge that takes place every January. Perhaps most importantly, they also support a funds for blues musicians in need, scholarships to send young musicians to camps, and education programs for schools. You can find out more about becoming a member here.
Folk art, which has a lot of ties to blues music, is incorpriated throughout the exhibits as well.
The Blues Hall of Fame is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4:30 p.m.) Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students with high school or college ID, and free for kids under 12 accompanied by an adult. Blues Foundation members and Le Bonheur and St. Jude families can enter for free.
The Blues HOF is ADA accessible. There is usually plenty of street metered parking. I'd set aside a minimum of 45 minutes to see the Blues Hall of Fame museum, but an hour is probably a better average, especially if you're taking advantage of all the listening opportunities.
Blues Hall of Fame
421 South Main St., Memphis TN 38103