Visit These Two Midwestern Cities For An Iconic Look At Rock And Roll History

It only took a few decades after the advent of radio for American music to become popular all over the world, especially rock and roll. This has given way to multiple attractions for music lovers perhaps in some unlikely locations. While Los Angeles and New York City are havens for music lovers, two Midwestern cities both claim to be the birthplace of rock and roll.

Cleveland, Ohio's argument as to why it is the birthplace of rock and roll is radio DJ Alan Freed, whose Cleveland-based radio show on WJW played music that was popular among African Americans. Record store owner Leo Mintz discussed such "race music" with Freed, and they decided to play it on WJW, but called the genre "rock and roll." Memphis, Tennessee claims to be the genre's birthplace because it is the home of the recording studio Memphis Recording Service, which heard what many now regard as the first rock and roll recording: Rocket "88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. Studio owner Sam Phillips later founded Sun Records. Under this record label, Elvis Presley released his first songs, which received airplay when radio DJ Dewey Phillips played them on WHBQ in Memphis. Today, both cities bring in music lovers thanks to museums and monuments to those influential figures.

Cleveland offers more than just the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Downtown Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This huge pyramid is actually a museum housing rock and roll memorabilia, like original handwritten song lyrics, instruments to play, and events with guest artists and speakers. However, the museum is not just for rockers. Its memorabilia collection includes artifacts from influential people in hip-hop, jazz, and other genres of music.

Near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the Allen Theatre. While many of Cleveland's early rock and roll locations have since been lost, the beautiful 100 year old Allen Theatre is still in operation. The venue once held rock concerts for the likes of Chuck Berry, The Doors, and Pink Floyd. For proof that rock is not a thing of the past, stop at 27 Club Coffee before leaving downtown. This coffee shop was founded by former Cleveland local Machine Gun Kelly, one of just two artists to top the Billboard 200 with a rock album in 2022.

Less than 20 minutes east of downtown Cleveland is the Lakeview Cemetery, where you'll find Alan Freed's gravesite. The headstone's jukebox design on the back makes it easy to spot. The front of the monument includes a short biography about the impact that Freed had on making rock and roll mainstream.

Visit the recording studio used by rock and roll greats in Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee's music scene began with jazz and blues. Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, and "Father of the Blues" W.C. Handy were among the many performers along Memphis' Beale Street. Among those listening was Elvis Presley. As previously mentioned, Presley's first songs to hit radio airwaves were recorded with Sun Records at the Memphis Recording Service. Sun Records also launched the careers of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and other stars who blended the genres of jazz, blues, and country music to create rock and roll.

Today, Beale Street commemorates these musicians with the W.C. Handy House Museum, Jerry Lee Lewis' Cafe and Honky Tonk, B.B. King's Blues Club, a statue of Elvis Presley, and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. Now called Sun Studio, the building that housed the Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records is just a few minutes away from Beale Street. The recording studio once used by so many artists is remarkably intact. Tours of the building include the sound studio and memorabilia from many of the record label's stars. When visiting Memphis, be sure not to forget Presley's Graceland mansion and the neighboring museums chronicling his legacy. After seeing both Cleveland and Memphis, you can decide for yourself which city is the true birthplace of rock and roll.