What do you get when you cross folk, blues, gospel, soul, country and bluegrass? Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Valerie June. With a beautiful deep voice and soulful allure, Valerie’s music is a melting pot of styles and genres, just like her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Fresh off her performance at the Beale Street Music Festival, we caught up with Valerie to visit some of her favorite places in Memphis.
The first stop was Java Cabana in midtown’s Cooper-Young neighborhood. This kitschy coffeehouse has been serving delicious baked goods, organic local coffee and soothing teas (like Red Zinger, Valerie’s favorite) since 1992. Full of memorabilia and knickknacks, the coffeehouse also sells vintage clothing. During the stop, Valerie found a vintage polka-dot blouse she just couldn’t pass up. Poetry readings and live music occur throughout the week, making it a great spot to grab your favorite buzzy beverage of choice and relax for a while. Photo Credit: @ethan.c.hart
National Civil Rights Museum
Next, she visited the National Civil Rights Museum. Growing up in the area, Valerie and her family would come here to pay their respects to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. every MLK Day. Attached to the original Lorraine Motel, the museum is home to exhibits from five centuries and includes room 306 where Dr. King stayed in April 1968 during his visit to Memphis when he was assassinated. It’s only one of five museums in the U.S. accredited as an international site of conscience—a global network connecting past struggles to today’s movements for human rights. The museum contains expansive collections, research and educational programs related to the Civil Rights Movement and human rights everywhere.
Looking for a place to pick up a local souvenir? Look no further than this hidden gem. The next stop was Maggie’s Pharm, a boutique gift shop brimming with one-of-a-kind treasures. The shop has artisan soaps, candles, teas and herbs, along with an impressive collection of beautiful, unique jewelry —Valerie’s favorite (she was sporting a stunning coral ring from Maggie’s ). With so many interesting things inside, you’ll certainly find gifts to tote back home.
Formerly a movie theater, Royal Studios is historic not only in Memphis, but to the entire music world. Established in 1957, it is one of the oldest continuously-operating recording studios in the world and has recorded artists such as Al Green, Ann Peebles, Keith Richards, Bruno Mars, Ike and Tina Turner, Tom Jones and Buddy Guy.
The studio is now operated by the family of widely-known producer, recording artist and owner Willie Mitchell. Willie’s son Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, manager and engineer, greeted Valerie at the door of this historic site. Valerie recorded here last year, so she gave us a quick tour of the space — including a look at original recording equipment and tapes. As a former theater, the studio has a slightly sloped floor. According to Boo, his father claimed this minor detail is responsible for the signature soul sound of Royal Studios. Although not open to the public, visitors can explore the building’s exterior and take a photo of the famous painted door that depicts some of the legends who have walked through it.
Memphis is alive with culture and soul — and both were on display during our day with Valerie. From starting with a pick-me-up from Java Cabana, to being inspired by the National Civil Rights Museum, finding unique gifts at Maggie’s Pharm, and then Royal Studios to stand in the soulful space where so many influential artists have stood, our tour of Valerie’s favorite places was one to remember. And that’s just the surface of all that Memphis has to offer. Thinking about planning your own trip? Check out this Memphis page for more ideas on what to do when you visit.