Memphis — birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and iconic destination for blues — is also home to a whopping 50-plus museums. And not one but three are brand new: the Blues Hall of Fame Museum, the Ducks Unlimited National Waterfowling Heritage Center at the Bass Pro Shops, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame Museum opening at the end of this month.
These new attractions join institutions like the turn-of-the-century firehouse at the Fire Museum; Sun Studio where Elvis became a star; Pink Palace, a science and history playground with a planetarium; the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art; and the Belz Museum of Asian & Judaic Art.
Here, the scoop on the new kids on the museum block, plus a few more that we think are worth a visit.
Blues Hall of Fame Museum
This newly opened, $2.9 million project is part of the Memphis-based Blues Foundation. Located across the street from the National Civil Rights Museum, the museum pays tribute to the 140 inductees who have helped to keep the blues alive over the years. Special displays include a signed B.B. King guitar, Sonny Boy Williamson II’s Hohner harmonica plastic amplifier (the first harmonica amplifier ever made), Albert Collins’ Fender Telecaster guitar, and Ike Turner’s performance shirt — which he insisted be leotard-tight fit to prevent bunching during performances. Each exhibit has an interactive touchscreen that allows visitors to look up songs and artists, while two private listening booths offer endless blues record tracks. $10.
Ducks Unlimited National Waterfowling Heritage Center
Located in the brand new Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, this interactive museum showcases the history of waterfowling and wetlands conservation. Learn about the wildlife found along the Mississippi Flyway and the importance of conserving wetlands. Enter a duck blind and try duck hunting via an interactive 4D simulation experience — and experts are standing by if you have any questions. While you’re here, don’t miss taking the country’s highest freestanding elevator (28 stories) to the top of the Pyramid, for a 320-foot-high view of the Mississippi River and Memphis. Free admission.
Memphis Music Hall of Fame
Opening soon, this Beale Street museum, adjacent to the newly relocated Hard Rock Café, will be the only Memphis museum focusing specifically on the rock, soul, jazz, blues, and R&B heroes of Memphis music. You’ll be able to pay homage to the bigger-than-life musical legends who rocked the planet in this new, educational and highly interactive exhibition, all under the care and management of the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.
National Civil Rights Museum
Reopened in 2014, the National Civil Rights Museum encompasses the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was shot as well as the boarding house from which James Earl Ray pulled the trigger. Visitors can stand in Ray’s room, left exactly as it was the day of the assassination, for a chilling step back in time. Elsewhere in the museum, 260 artifacts and 40-plus films, oral histories, and listening posts guide visitors from the beginning of the resistance during slavery, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, and the events of the late 20th century that drove people around the world to stand up for equality. $15.
The Metal Museum
This is the only institution in the U.S. devoted exclusively to the art and craft of fine metalwork. Enter through exquisite artist-made gates, made of hundreds of individual medallions, to visit galleries filled with stunning contemporary metal objects. We love that the working blacksmith shop in the back of the museum hosts “repair days,” during which anyone can bring in broken items for a metalsmith to fix. Also recommended: Walking to the edge of the property for drop-dead gorgeous views of the Mississippi River. $6.
The Cotton Museum is much more than fair to middlin’ — a term which originally referred to the grade of the cotton. After all, this cash crop created empires, transformed American culture, and arguably changed the world. At the museum, tread on the same legendary floor where the elite members of the Memphis Cotton Exchange once stood. You’ll leave with an understanding of Memphis’s art and history, and how the city’s flourished with the people who originally moved here to work in the cotton industry. $10.
Mississippi River Museum
Add a bit of adventure to a cultural day by whisking across the harbor to Mud Island River Park via monorail. Here, at the Mississippi River Museum, learn about the river said to be “too thick to drink and too thin to plough.” Those were the words of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain. Find more than 5,000 artifacts and two full-sized boat replicas to learn all about the body of water that the prolific writer was so beguiled with. $10.