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Memphis Music Tour

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Memphis is where the Mississippi River meets the Deep South. The city has a rich musical history, full of blues, rockabilly, gospel, and rock and roll. And the landmarks of this history are yours to enjoy. If you like, you can get in the proper mood with a song.

WDIA went on the air in Memphis in 1947. By 1949, it became the first US radio station to be programmed by and for African-Americans. Former deejays include Rufus Thomas and B.B. King, and Carla Thomas and Isaac Hayes performed live on the air. You can see it on Union Avenue.

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Beale Street is the home of The Blues in Memphis. Between the statue of W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues on one end and the statue of Elvis on the other end, Beale Street is crammed with music clubs such as B.B. King's original Blues Club, and street musicians busking for tourist dollars.

More Memphis music landmarks, after the jump.

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Stax Records and the subsidiary Volt Records produced the sound that became known as Memphis Soul for nationwide consumption. Rufus and Carla Thomas were their earliest stars, followed by Booker T. and the M.G.s (which stands for Memphis Group), Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and The Staple Singers. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is located in the Soulsville neighborhood where Stax Records once stood, along with Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios and Aretha Franklin's birthplace. The museum also runs the Stax Music Academy and charter school.

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You'll be welcomed for Sunday services at the Full Gospel Tabernacle. Join in the joyous gospel music with rev. Al Green. Yes, that Al Green. The church is at 787 Hale Road; services are at 11:30AM and 4PM.

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Sun Studio is often referred to as the birthplace of Rock and Roll. Founded in 1950, Sun recorded blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf, but switched gears after Ike Turner's song "Rocket 88" introduced the sound of rock and roll. 18-year-old Elvis Presley made his first recording there in 1953. Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash all recorded with Sun in the 50s.

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After Elvis made a name for himself, he bought a mansion in 1957 and named it Graceland. He lived there with his parents and later his wife Pricilla, and died there in 1977. Elvis and his parents are buried at Graceland. Now, 600,000 fans visit the mansion every year! If you don't want to deal with the crowds, you can take a virtual tour online.

But Memphis is much more than music. Wednesday, we'll take a look at the many other world-famous Memphis landmarks.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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