One of the best things to do in Memphis, Tennessee is to take the tour of Sun Studio. This legendary recording studio introduced rock and roll to the world and launched the careers of many stars. Sun Studio discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and so many more. While my visit was hosted by Memphis Travel and Sun Studio, opinions are my own. And my opinion is that everyone should tour Sun Studio in Memphis.
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Top things to do in Memphis, Tennessee: Sun Studio Tour
One of my top things to do in Memphis, Tenn., is to tour Sun Studio. The birthplace of rock and roll provides a look inside where many musical legends got their start. Along with Elvis, the Man in Black, and Jerry Lee Lewis, many other stars launched their careers or recorded at this studio.
And Sun Studio is still making its mark in music history. A museum of rock legends and stories by day, Sun Studio still serves as a recording studio for artists at night.
While small, the intimate Sun Studio museum packs in a lot of great music history. A tour guide provides behind-the-scenes stories and transports you back to the 1950s where music legends like Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Ray Orbison, and more made history. In fact, you can stand in the very same spot where Elvis Presley recorded.
That’s not the only cool fun fact I’ve learned. Come take a virtual tour of Sun Studio – one of the best things to do in Memphis.
What you need to know before you go: Sun Studio in Memphis
Here are a few things to know as you plan your visit to Sun Studio in Memphis.
When is Sun Studio in Memphis open? What are their hours?
Sun Studio in Memphis is open for tours every day: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Tours take place on the bottom of each hour. Please check their holiday hours during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
How do I order tickets for Sun Studio online? Can I buy tickets in person?
Please note that tickets are only sold in person the day of the tour, which are once an hour at the bottom of the hour (e.g., 10:30 a.m.). And because of its size, tours are limited to 25 guests. So I highly recommend arriving at Sun Studio early to get your tickets. You can always purchase and then come back. Although I spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop area. You can also find some seating inside and outside (although limited).
Also note that children only five and older are allowed to take the Sun Studio tour.
While my ticket was complimentary courtesy of Memphis Travel and Sun Studio, my opinion is always my own. And my opinion is that you must visit Sun Studio.
How long is the Sun Studio tour? How much time should I allow to visit Sun Studio in Memphis?
The guided tour portion of the Sun Studio is 40 to 50 minutes. They recommend allowing at least 90 minutes during your visit.
How many people can go on a Sun Studio tour? Are face masks required?
Tours at Sun Studio are limited to 25 guests. As of this original publishing date, face masks are required to tour Sun Studio. See their website for the latest health and safety protocols.
What’s the address of Sun Studio? Where is Sun Studio located? Is parking available at Sun Studio?
Sun Studio is located at 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tenn. – at the corner of Union and Marshall. You can find free parking behind the building.
Does Sun Studio have restrooms?
Yes, Sun Studio offers restrooms for visitors.
Is there a restaurant at Sun Studio?
You may order beverages in the Sun Studio lobby/gift shop; however, no beverages are allowed during your tour.
Does Sun Studio have a gift shop? Can I purchase Sun Studio souvenirs online?
Yes, you can find the gift shop right as you enter Sun Studio. You may also order Sun Studio souvenirs online – anything from clothing to accessories to music.
Is the Sun Studio tour ADA-accessible?
While the lobby, gift shop/record store, and second half of the Sun Studio tour is ADA-accessible, the first half of the tour is not. That’s because of this flight of stairs. Sun Studio does not charge if you are unable to take the full tour due to accessibility.
Take a virtual tour of Sun Studio – one of the best things to do in Memphis, Tenn.
I learned quite a few things about Sun Studio’s history and why it is famous. Here are a few of my favorite fun facts about the birthplace of rock and roll. And what you can expect during your tour of Sun Studio.
Why is Sun Studio called the birthplace of rock and roll?
For one, that’s where record producer Sam Phillips discovered music legends such as Elvis Presley, BB King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and more. During your tour, you’ll get to listen to several recordings. And stand in the very same place where Elvis recorded at Sun Studio.
Fun fact: Elvis recorded at least 24 songs at Sun Studio in Memphis between 1953 and 1955.
During your tour, you’ll be able to listen to several recording outtakes before songs became record-breaking hits. And why is this record physically broken? Apparently, due to the hijinks of the unpredictable and popular DJ Daddy-O Dewey Phillips.
Famed broadcasting studio of popular DJ Daddy-O Dewey Phillips part of Sun Studio exhibit
You’ll find the original and restored Control Room C where DJ Daddy-O Dewey Phillips broadcast his radio show at Hotel Chisca on your tour at Sun Studio. Phillips (unrelated to Sam Phillips) was the first DJ to broadcast Elvis Presley’s first record, “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” And he didn’t just play it once that night. Phillips played it more than a dozen times after receiving nearly 50 phone calls and 14 telegrams. He then called Elvis in for a live on-air interview.
Fun fact about Johnny Cash at Sun Studio
Fun fact: Johnny Cash used a dollar bill/paper under his strings to replicate the sound of a snare drum while recording his first #1 hit at Sun Studio, “I Walk the Line.” Apparently, they didn’t have access to a snare drum while recording.
While Sun Studio is small, you’ll find it jam-packed with lots of rock and roll memorabilia.
Million Dollar Quartet fun fact
Are you familiar with that iconic photo of Elvis Presley surrounded by Jerry Lee Lewis (unknown outside of Memphis at the time), Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes fame) and Johnny Cash? Apparently, this jam session was unplanned. In fact, Elvis was contracted with a different recording studio at the time (Dec. 4, 1956). And all four musicians just happened to drop by Sun Studio that day. Sam Phillips recorded the impromptu session as a souvenir.
According to the Sun Studio website, “The following day, an article, written by Memphis newspaperman Bob Johnson about the session, was published in the Memphis Press-Scimitar under the title, ‘Million Dollar Quartet.’”
BB King fun fact
BB King’s real name was Riley King. He earned the nickname BB as it stood for Blues Boy or Beale Street Boy. Many of his recordings were made at Memphis Recording Service. He found success on Amateur Night at Club Paradise on Beale Street. Later he worked at Memphis radio station WDIA – the first radio station in America to feature all Black programming.
Joe Hill Louis, aka The Be-Bop-Boy and his One Man Band, also worked at WDIA radio and later became a session musician at Sun Studio.
Johnny Cash wasn’t the only one with music ties to prisons
Sun Studio founder, Sam Phillips, worked with the Tennessee State Penitentiary to record “Just Walking in the Rain” by The Prisonaires quartet. They became a favorite musical group of Governor Frank G. Clement, who eventually pardoned them.
And many more exhibits featuring iconic memorabilia
Fun fact: Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats is considered the first rock and roll record by most music historians. This number one hit in 1951 prompted Sam Phillips to quit his day job, according to Sun Studio.
Recommend Sun Studio to my family and friends
Both my husband and son are huge audiophiles and music-loving historians. I know they would love touring Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn. The entire time I was wishing they were on the tour with me. Next time! And there will be a next time as there are so many more cool things to do in Memphis, Tenn. See more of my favorite recommendations in my related posts.
- Top things to do in Memphis: A three-day itinerary.
- Guide to the National Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Hotel in Memphis
- Guide to Graceland – Home of Elvis Presley in Memphis