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VOL. 127 | NO. 209 | Thursday, October 25, 2012

International Exposure

Memphis music, culture spotlighted at various exhibits worldwide

By Sarah Baker

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The Memphis hotel industry can thank at least 200,000 of its room nights last year to European visitors booked by tour operators.

The city of Memphis and its musical heritage is on display in numerous ways around the globe, including this special exhibit in Germany called “Memphis Exhibition Berlin.”

(Photo Courtesy of Stax Museum of American Soul Music)

European stays in Memphis averaged three nights, with each person spending more than $200 per day.

Those are projections from the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau after Memphis was featured in the travel catalogs and websites of more than 200 European tour operators in 2011.

That robust marketing trend is continuing this fall, as Memphis has more so than usual stepped into the international limelight with a medley of events and exhibits.

In Germany, “Memphis Exhibition Berlin” runs until Oct. 28; in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the “Elvis Experience” runs until Dec. 1; in England, Memphis-themed taxis have been on the streets in London since before the Olympics and the “Rock ‘n’ Soul Mates” initiative continues in Liverpool for another year.

And last month in Tokyo, Japan, the “Million Dollar Quartet” – a musical showcasing the December 1956 meeting of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at Sun Studio – wrapped up its run.

It’s the first time for so many projects highlighting the birthplace of blues and rock ‘n’ roll to be occurring in different parts of the world simultaneously, said CVB president and CEO Kevin Kane.

“That notoriety … speaks volumes of our rich heritage in this city that we posses and how there is a global interest of what our legacy represents in the world,” Kane said. “There is this very positive allure of being from Memphis and having that Memphis connection. We basically export it to the rest of the world.”

The “Memphis Exhibition Berlin” is a prime example of Memphis’ global repute. Put together by husband and wife business partners West Berliners Clemens Gubernath and Jacqueline Mende, the exhibit portrays Memphis as an important place for the development of American music culture, starting with the blues, on to rock ‘n’ roll and soul, and the influence on youth culture and society worldwide.

Located in Berlin’s Gibson Guitar Showroom, “Memphis Exhibition Berlin” features photographs – many of which were taken by Ernest Withers – clothing, documents, films and other memorabilia that tell the story of world-famous Beale Street, Sun Studio, Stax Records and Memphis’ pivotal role in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Tim Sampson, communications director at the Stax Museum, took nine Stax Music Academy students to perform at opening reception festivities. To his surprise, those in the crowd who didn’t speak English thought the students were professional musicians and were screaming in excitement.

“It was pretty amazing to be in the heart of Berlin, Germany, and see all of these people just so interested in Memphis, all of the culture that came out of here and all of the ways that we embrace that culture now with all of the attractions,” Sampson said. “A lot of them knew Johnny Cash, Martin Luther King, Elvis and Isaac Hayes, but I don’t think that a lot of people realized that of these things came out of this one city until they got in the exhibit, which does a really good job of telling the story.”

Meanwhile, the “Elvis Experience” is about halfway through its 12-week run in Sao Paulo’s Shopping Eldorado Mall – the largest Elvis exhibition to ever take place outside of the U.S. It features more than 600 rare artifacts, documents and photos, many of which have never left Graceland.

Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. strategically targeted Brazil because of the emerging economy and the uptick of Brazilian visitors to the States, said Kevin Kern, director of public relations for EPE. The U.S. Commerce Department projects 1.5 million Brazilians will visit the United States in 2012.

“Graceland, along with the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau we want a piece of that pie in the future,” Kern said. “This exhibit in some ways can be compared to exporting Elvis and we are extending the invitation to visit Memphis at the end of the exhibition.”

Brazil is also the home to heaps of Elvis Presley fan clubs and ranks second behind the U.S. in number of fans on Elvis’ Facebook page.

“Graceland already offers the tour of Elvis’ famous Memphis mansion in nine languages, including Portuguese,” Kern said.

Yet another hot tourism market for Memphis is the United Kingdom. Starting with the Summer Olympics and over the course of the next year, 10 London taxi cabs with the Memphis logo are bustling around the city. And while the “Memphis” musical is still on its U.S. tour through June, it’s negotiating a show in London for fall 2013.

What’s more, in Liverpool, England, the “Rock ‘n’ Soul Mates” exhibit just completed its first year. The initiative spotlights the similarities between Memphis and Liverpool (home of The Beatles), both rich in geography, education and music heritage.

“Those types of things are certainly positive for tourism and positive for our brand, which obviously is our music culture,” Kane said. “I think it will lead to people wanting to come to Memphis and have the real experience.”

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