Hundreds of thousands of fans make the pilgrimage every year to the former homes of Elvis Presley. But he isn’t the only musical legend who garners the love and adoration of fans from around the world. Prince, the Allman Brothers Band and the Carter Family also have dedicated followers.
Music aficionados not only clamor to see the homes, costumes and cars that once belonged to their idols. They also trek to historic music venues and recording studios where the musical magic happened.
Check out this selection of historic American music destinations that will capture the imaginations of music lovers everywhere.
Elvis Presley Birthplace
The king of rock and roll — Elvis Presley — was born in a small, two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. He lived there until he was 13 years old, and it was in Tupelo and at his childhood church that he was exposed to the gospel music that would influence his unique sound. Situated on 15 acres, the museum offers insight into young Elvis’ life. Visitors can tour his home, a chapel that was built in his memory and his childhood church, which was moved to the site a decade ago.
Elvis bought the property in 1957, the same year he purchased Graceland. About 80,000 visitors tour the site annually. They come to learn what it was like for their idol growing up in rural Mississippi during the height of the Depression. And Elvis fandom isn’t just for the folks who grew up hearing his music. The Elvis Presley Birthplace has seen an uptick in younger visitors as well.
The home where Presley found refuge from the road has become one of the biggest music tour destinations in the country, with 600,000-plus visitors a year. Fans come from around the world not only to see how Elvis lived but also to gaze at thousands of artifacts from his life. The mansion delves into who Elvis was as a person, his family and his hobbies.
Across the street from Graceland is Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a huge complex of museums and exhibits that tell the story of Elvis the entertainer. Tour visitors see his airplanes, cars, motorcycles and boats; they can gawk at his gold and platinum records, ogle his famous spangled jumpsuits and learn about his movie career and the years he spent as the first resident artist in Las Vegas.
The Graceland campus will add an exhibit building this summer that will house up to four rotating non-Elvis-related exhibits. Tour groups will not be disappointed.
Prince’s 65,000-square-foot estate and recording and production studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota, recently opened for public tours. Fans of the Purple One have the opportunity to visit the music studio where he created many of his masterpieces, including “Batman,” “The Black Album,” “Lovesexy” and “Sign o’ the Times.” Personal artifacts from his archives are displayed throughout, among them iconic apparel, musical instruments, the “Purple Rain” motorcycle, and music and video recordings.
Visitors can tour the NPG Music Club and the 11,000-square-foot Paisley Park soundstage where Prince filmed many of his music videos and movies and where he rehearsed for tours and held live performances.
Prince always insisted the idea for Paisley Park was not his alone. He saw it belonging to everyone, according to his estate. “Paisley Park is in everybody’s heart,” he once said. “It’s not just something that I have the keys to.”
Big House Museum
Fans of the Allman Brothers Band visit the Big House Museum to geek out over guitars and other instruments used by the popular group from the late ’60s and early ’70s, including Duane Allman’s 1957 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar. The famous instrument was used for many of the band’s early hits as well as on the Derek and the Dominos hit “Layla.” Many of the band’s members lived in the house from January 1970 until 1973, including Berry Oakley, Gregg Allman and Duane Allman. The house held special meaning for the band because the group and many of its roadies spent so much time there jamming and partying.
Last year, more than 10,000 people passed through the museum’s doors. The site offers private group tours when the museum isn’t open to the public and features free backyard jazz and country music concerts during the summer months.
Carter Family Fold
The birthplace of country music sits in a rural valley at the base of Clinch Mountain in southwest Virginia. The former home of the Carter Family — American folk music legends A.P. and Sara Carter and A.P.’s sister-in-law, Maybelle Carter — features a music theater that holds 822 people, the restored cabin where A.P. Carter was born and a museum that commemorates the lives of these traditional folk singers. Rita Forrester — A.P. and Sara Carter’s granddaughter — runs the site now, which is going into its 45th year.
Visitors come every Saturday night at 7:30 to listen and dance to traditional bluegrass and old-time acoustic music. Many greats of country music have graced the stage at the Carter Family Fold, including Johnny Cash and Ricky Skaggs.
“We’re out in the country. We’re a rural arts organization, which is relatively rare,” said Forrester. “You have to come off the beaten path to find us.” Concertgoers can tour the Carter Family Museum and A.P. Carter’s childhood cabin before the Saturday night concert and during intermission. Because the site is run completely by volunteers, tour groups must make a special appointment to see the fold on days when there isn’t a concert.
Hollywood Bowl Museum
The half-dome concert venue in the heart of Los Angeles is as iconic as the Hollywood sign and has hosted some of the music industry’s greatest performers in its more than 100 years of operation. Run by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl is still a prime music destination for music lovers from around the world. The accompanying museum, which opened in 1984, sits at the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl off Peppertree Lane and Highland Avenue. It is a tribute to the theater’s storied history; visitors there can take a self-guided walking tour of the grounds, learn the history of the shell and find out more about the famous faces that have graced its stage.
The first floor of the museum hosts a permanent exhibit on the history of the Bowl. The second floor features temporary exhibitions. The current exhibition features the great jazz performers who have appeared on the Hollywood Bowl stage throughout history. The Hollywood Bowl Museum offers free guided tours for groups of 10 or more as long as they are booked in advance. Visitors are allowed to go behind the scenes, walk on stage and take in an unmatched view of the Hollywood sign.
Museum of Motown
Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye all got their start in Studio A at Hitsville U.S.A., the birthplace of Motown music. More than 180 No. 1 hits were recorded at Motown Records Corp., which was founded by Berry Gordy in 1959. Gordy was credited with bringing the music of some of America’s top African-American singers and musicians to the world. He lived above the recording studio, and visitors to the Museum of Motown can not only visit his old apartment but also check out Studio A, complete with much of the original equipment and many of the instruments that were used by some of Motown’s greatest artists.
The museum is chock full of memorabilia from Motown Records and features rotating exhibits on the various artists who got their big breaks there. The museum is in the midst of a $50 million capital campaign to raise money for a 50,000-square-foot expansion. It will soon offer interactive exhibits, a state-of-the-art performance theater, recording studios and event space to showcase all of the Motown artists who work in the Detroit area.
One of the most famous music halls in the world is in Harlem in New York City. The Apollo Theater got its start in 1934 playing host to the likes of James Brown, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Sammy Davis Jr. The Apollo gained notoriety through its amateur night. Dancers, singers, actors and comedians all come to the Apollo seeking a chance at fame. They rub the Tree of Hope, the stump of an elm tree that used to sit about six blocks from the theater, for luck as they step on stage and take their chances with a sometimes unforgiving audience.
Group tours of the Apollo are available. Visitors get a chance to walk onstage and touch the Tree of Hope. They may even get a chance to perform on the Apollo stage.
The venue started its life as a burlesque theater. It was bought out in 1928 and became the 125th Street Apollo Theatre. It wasn’t until 1934 that it became the Apollo we know today, a venue dedicated to promoting and inspiring African-American entertainers.