Lesson Tutor: Go Eat Your Homework! Memphis

<— 10,000
BC  —->
——-> 1527 —– ->
Ancient Egypt
Roman Empire
Age of
Modern Era
I Remember


“Katy did sing like a symphony; porch swing swayin’ like a Tennessee lullaby…”

In 1991, Pam Tillis made “Maybe It Was Memphis” an overnight hit. Lines about  katydid symphonies painted quite a picture of the Tennessee city!

Memphis sits on a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. Years ago, the cliff seemed an appealing site for a town and was given a charter under President Andrew Jackson in 1819. Though the city sits 90 feet above the river, it was prone to muddy streets and poor drainage in its earliest years, a haven for mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and cholera. But Memphis managed to grow and even to flourish.

The connection with the Mississippi River afforded Memphis opportunities that affected shipping and brought in travelers and settlers. Cotton and timber were transported on barges down the river as well as by rail…until the Civil War, that is. Union troops cut off supplies to and from Memphis by capturing the port city’s harbor and its railroad stations. However, post-Civil War business resumed with a flurry and Memphis goods rode the rails to steamers bound for the cotton mills of Liverpool. History confirms that the first rich folk in Memphis paid for their mansions with cotton profits. But mansions and wealth weren’t only a response to cotton, or even timber, for that matter. Indeed, the river brought other “kings” to Memphis, mostly by way of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River connected New Orleans and Memphis – and so did the “blues.” In 1917, when the Secretary of State closed the blues district of New Orleans due to the crime in that part of the city, jazz musicians looked to the river. Some took jobs on riverboats as entertainers. The musical Showboat was based on such a scenario. Other musicians migrated up the Mississippi to Memphis’ Beale Street where W.C. Handy had long before tooted a jazz note or two, composing “Memphis Blues” as a tribute to the city.

There were several “jazz kings.” King Curtis recorded “Memphis Soul Stew” in 1947. Another King introduced Memphis to rhythm and blues guitar, coining his own radio name of Beale Street Blues Boy, or B.B. King, for short!

Beale Street isn’t too far from Union Avenue, where a young man by the name of Elvis Presley cut his first Rock and Roll release in Sam Phillips’ tiny Sun Studio. The “King” of Rock and Roll, Elvis spawned a unique blend of gospel, jazz, blues, and rock that added to the flavor of Memphis.

The tragedy of one King marked heavily upon Memphis history when in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in the downtown area of the city. Through many years of painful recovery, Memphians have sought to continue the fight for civil rights begun by Dr. King; and in 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum was opened at the site of the assassination.

Today, Memphis is a unique blend of old and new. A 32-story multi-purpose arena – The Pyramid – overlooks the Mississippi River, its purpose to host entertainment and sporting events. The same river is home to The Memphis Queen Line’s five paddlewheel riverboats, certainly reminiscent of times gone by. Across town, W.C. Handy’s home marks history in the center of a revived Beale Street.

Memphis. Quite a city. I like jazz. Still, I’m a sucker for porch swings and katydid symphonies. Sing it, Pam. I’ll be right there.

Memphis Blues Stew
Put on a King Curtis song to get you in the mood. The King will tell you that “today’s special is Memphis Stew,” with a “teacup of bass…a pound of fat back drums…and four tablespoons of bawlin’ Memphis guitars.” Then swing on into the kitchen to cook up the best stew you could hope to put in your ever-lovin’ mouth!

Assemble the following ingredients:
2 pounds lean stewing beef
1 large onion
2 medium potatoes
3 carrots
2 cloves garlic
1 green pepper
1 can mushrooms
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Cut beef into 1½ inch cubes. Chop onion and green pepper. Peel potatoes and carrots and cut into bite-size pieces. Put into crock pot or large pot on stove with ½ cup water. Cook on low as you add the rest of the ingredients. Stir. Fill pot almost to rim with water so that stew ingredients are immersed. Cover. In crock pot, cook 5 hours on high or 10 hours on low. On the stove, cook over low heat for 1½ -2 hours until desired thickness, stirring frequently.

Serve with the King’s “pinch of organ, a half pint of horn,” and the Memphis beat.

Hopping John
Hopping John is a southern tradition. Eating a bowl of Hopping John on New Year’s Eve is supposed to bring good luck for the coming year.

Assemble the following ingredients:
4 cups black-eyed peas, cooked, with liquid
(This can be homemade or canned)
½ cup water
1 cup ham, cubed
2 cups cooked rice
salt and pepper
3 drops liquid hot sauce (red pepper sauce)
½ cup onion, finely chopped

Combine cooked black-eyed peas (with their liquid) with water and ham in a saucepan. Mix well. Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add cooked rice. Salt and pepper to taste. Heat throughout, stirring constantly. Serve with chopped onion as garnish. Have hot red pepper sauce on hand for those who think they might want it just a “touch” hotter.

Rock and Roll– The Million Dollar Quartet first “jammed” and then recorded in the Memphis Sun Studios. Members of the quartet were Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley.

Basketball – NBA owners gave approval for the Vancouver Grizzlies to move to Memphis where they will play basketball in the jazzy city.

Downtown trolley– In 1993, the downtown trolley began operation. Another blend of the old and the new!

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