Memphis (mĕmˈfĭs) [key], city (1990 pop. 610,337), seat of Shelby co., SW Tenn., on the Fourth, or Lower, Chickasaw Bluff above the Mississippi, at the mouth of the Wolf River; inc. 1826. A river port with excellent anchorages on the Wolf, Memphis is the largest city in the state, a port of entry, a rail and air distribution center, and a leading hardwood lumber, cotton, and livestock market. Its wide variety of manufactures includes textiles, consumer goods, paints, and automotive parts. A number of corporations have national headquarters in the city. Trans-Mississippi bridges connect Memphis with Arkansas.
De Soto is said to have crossed the Mississippi near the site of Memphis. The area was strategically important during the time of the British, French, and Spanish rivalries in the 18th cent. A U.S. fort was erected in 1797. The city was established (1819) by Andrew Jackson, Marcus Winchester, and John Overton. In the Civil War it fell, on June 6, 1862, to a Union force led by the elder Charles Henry Davis. Severe yellow-fever epidemics occurred in the 1870s, and thousands died. So many people fled the city that its charter had to be surrendered (1879); it was not restored until 1891. E. H. "Boss"Crump ruled Memphis from 1909 until his political hold was broken after 1948.
The city is the seat of the Univ. of Memphis, the Univ. of Tennessee Medical Units, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Rhodes College, Christian Brothers Univ., Le Moyne–Owen College, the Memphis Academy of Arts, Southern College of Optometry, and a technical institute. It has a natural history museum, a planetarium, an art gallery, a metalwork museum, a notable park system, botanical gardens, a zoo, an aquarium, a coliseum, a speedway, and Autozone Park, where minor league baseball games attract many to a resurgent downtown area. The National Basketball Association's Grizzlies play in FedExForum. The Mid-South Fairgrounds and the Memphis Cook Convention Center, which has sponsored major traveling art exhibits, are there. An annual week-long cotton carnival is held, and postseason college football games are played there each year.
A number of antebellum homes in the city have been restored. Memphis is associated with the development of early rock-and-roll and the blues, and Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley, is one of the nation's largest tourist attractions. Beale St., another popular site, was made famous by W. C. Handy, the blues composer, and has been extensively restored. The National Civil Rights Museum is in the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The Pyramid, a 32-story glass-encased building, dominates the riverfront area. Nearby on a sandbar is Mud Island, a 52-acre amusement park.
See P. R. Coppock, Memphis Memoirs (1980); R. Biles, Memphis in the Great Depression (1986).