The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


Memphis Music Scene

1948

Memphis station WDIA changes to an all-black format. By the following summer, it will become the first radio station in the U.S. staffed entirely by black disc jockeys, and in a few years, it will be the most powerful station in Memphis.

1949

Nashville’s Bullet Records releases the first record by Memphis-based Riley “B.B.” King, host of a popular show on WDIA.

1950

Sam Phillips opens Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue. He begins recording several local blues artists, including B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and James Cotton.

1951

Phillips records “Rocket 88” with singer Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner’s band.

1952

Phillips launches Sun Records.

1953

WDIA disc jockey Rufus Thomas’ “Bear Cat,” an answer record to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” becomes Sun’s first national hit.

1954

Sun releases “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Elvis Presley, backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black.

1955

Despite Presley’s growing popularity, his five Sun singles fail to make a dent on the national charts. Phillips sells his contract to RCA Records for $35,000.

1955

Carl Perkins records “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Honey Don’t,” which Sun releases together as a single on January 1, 1956.

1956

Roy Orbison’s first Sun single, “Ooby Dooby,” is released.

1956

Sun releases Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.”

1957

Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” hits Number One. Near the end of the year, he marries his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown.

1957

Inspired by the success of Sun, Quinton Claunch, Bill Cantrell and Ray Harris form HI Records.

1958

While on tour in England, Lewis is attacked by the press, who are outraged by his marriage. The furor carries back to the U.S. where is blacklisted from radio and bookings are cancelled.

1959

HI Records scores its first big hit, “Smokie, Part 2,” by the Bill Black Combo.