National Civil Rights Museum: The National Civil Rights Museum, which was renovated and reopened in 2014, moves many visitors into reflective silence and, at times, tears. Built around the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, the museum continues across the street in the one-time boardinghouse where James Earl Ray stayed when he shot MLK. After looking through the bathroom window from which Ray is believed to have made the fatal shot, visitors can read about investigations into the question of whether Ray acted alone.
Beginning with slavery, the museum moves on to cover the entire Civil Rights movement; exhibits span big-screen videos of crowds singing "We Shall Overcome" to a "burning" bus like the one that carried Freedom Fighters; a figure of Rosa Parks sitting alone on a bus to the Selma marches to a jail cell. On a recent visit, when a 7-year-old asked her mother, "Why did they burn the bus?", her mother responded quietly, and the child said, "That was mean." Every American should spend several hours there. (450 Mulberry Street; 901-521-9699; civilrightsmuseum.org; open Monday and Wednesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays)
Sun Studio: A star-maker when teenagers hovered over 45 rpm records, Sam Phillips' studio is the self-described "birthplace of rock 'n' roll." Today's tourists take selfies in the very spot where Elvis first recorded when he was 18. Before The King came along, BB King, Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner and Carl Perkins recorded here; Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison recorded here later. Check out the original equipment, hear stories of the artists and listen to outtakes of recording sessions. (706 Union Avenue; 800-441-6249; sunstudio.com; open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum: Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum is at FedEx Forum a block from Beale Street, and offers an introduction to Memphis music for those who don't have much time. (Third and 191 Beale Street; 901-205-2533; memphisrocknsoul.org; open daily, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Stax Museum: Telling the story of another onetime recording studio, Stax Museum is farther afield but worth the trip to learn -- and hear -- about the birth of soul music, "which began in the church and cotton fields." The museum also delves into blues and has fascinating exhibits, including the rebuilt interior of a 1906 Mississippi church and Isaac Hayes' 1972 gold-trimmed Cadillac, lined inside with white fur. Otis Redding and Sam & Dave were among the record company's stars. (926 E. McLemore Avenue; 901-942-7685; staxmuseum.com; open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mondays)
Graceland: Of course, you have to see where Elvis lived and died. The pricey tour now is high tech, with iPads given to visitors as they self-guide through the first floor of his home. (It's called a mansion, but doesn't seem mega-big by today's standards.) His grave and those of his parents are near the pool. You can also see his costumes, automobiles and airplane, and, no surprise, buy stuff at 11 shops. The new official 450-room Guest House at Graceland is scheduled to open in October 2016. Meanwhile, the Heartbreak Hotel is still next door.