A look inside this piece of music history

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Nina Kathleen Jones has worked at Sun Studio for most of the past decade, starting as a tour guide and working as a manager for the past five years. She’s relayed Sun’s story thousands of times to people all over the world, and as Elvis Week approaches, she’ll do it even more.

“That’s one of the amazing things about the studio itself. You can literally tell Sun’s story every day for eight years, and she never gets old,” Jones said. “Being in this room is truly a special and historic place. The feeling you get from it never goes away.

Created by visionary producer Sam Phillips, the studio at 706 Union Ave. opened in January 1950 as the Memphis Recording Service. For the first two years, Phillips recorded acts for outside labels like Chess, RPM and Modern, while also making custom recordings of weddings and funerals in between.

Nina Kathleen Jones, director of operations at Sun Studio, the Memphis recording studio opened by rock-and-roll pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950.

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In 1952, Phillips turned the studio into Sun, both as a studio and as a label, and released his first album – “Drivin ‘Slow” by saxophonist Johnny London – that spring. By the late 1950s, Phillips and his roster of artists – Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Little Junior Parker, Roy Orbison and dozens of other influential rockabilly singers and R&B groups – would help usher in rock ‘n’ roll explosion, changing the course of music and cultural history.

After Phillips built his own custom Sam Phillips Recording Service studio across the street in 1959, Sun eventually faltered and closed. It was reopened as a tourist attraction in 1987, becoming the cornerstone of Memphis’ growing musical heritage industry.

Sun founder Sam Phillips.

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In 2003, Sun Studio was designated a National Historic Landmark, joining a roll call of other iconic American locations – from Mount Vernon to Pearl Harbor to the Apollo Mission Control Center – that “possess exceptional value or quality to illustrate or interpret. the legacy of the United States, ”those that“ are meaningful to all Americans, ”according to the National Historic Landmarks Program.

“You can’t tell the story of America in the 1950s without the story of rock and roll. And you can’t tell the story of rock and roll without Sam Phillips and Sun Records,” noted the Home Secretary of the George W. Bush administration, Gale Norton at the signing. the landmark designation. “American culture and society have been irreparably changed because of what happened at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis in the 1950s.”

Visitors tour Sun Studio, the Memphis recording studio opened by rock-and-roll pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950.

For Sun’s Jones – whose official title is COO – knowing and sharing this story is only part of his job.

“My job includes everything from opening doors in the morning to putting money in the books, that also means overseeing the tour guides… sometimes that means cleaning the toilets. Sometimes that means doing stuff for the media. or the celebrities. We just had Dennis Quaid here the other day, “she said. “It’s a bit of everything.”

Over the past year and a half, his duties have also included handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Sun closed from March to June 2020, then closed again most of January 2021 due to the pandemic. Since Memorial Day, however, traffic has started to increase and has continued to increase. Jones is anticipating the studio’s busiest period since early 2020 with the next influx of Elvis Week. (Elvis week is August 11-17.)

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Jones noted that as people visit, the demographics are different. “We don’t see any international traffic,” she said. “This has been the biggest difference for us, it’s mostly regional travelers, usually within a 4 to 6 hour drive.

“We saw maybe a total of 12 people from out of the country. Which is sad – because we love our international visitors, and they’ve always been such a big part of what we do. But until international travel returns to normal, there will likely be many more regional and domestic visitors. ”

Sun Studio, the Memphis recording studio opened by rock and roll pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950.

In addition to the studio itself, among the exhibits that visitors can enjoy is a collection of original recording material from Sam Phillips, the reception desk where his secretary Marion Keisker first welcomed Elvis into the studio, the restored DJ booth used by Dewey Phillips, the first jock to play Presley’s records, and dozens of other original and unique tracks from history.

Beyond touring, Sun is still an active recording studio and served as a launching pad for Grammy-winning engineering producer Matt Ross-Spang, who served as a staff engineer for several years.

These days, local artist Crockett Hall works as a staff engineer for Sun and recently brought a variety of artists – from funk artist / collaborator Prince MonoNeon to Grammy-winning drummer Daru Jones – into the studio to record. .

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Ray Geagan of Orange County, California strikes his best Elvis pose while touring the Sun Studio, the Memphis recording studio opened by rock-and-roll pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950.

In the meantime, for Jones, Elvis’ next week promises more opportunities to tell Sun’s story.

“Elvis fans are still a big audience even though they know the story and have been here before,” she said. “The chance to be at The Sun and follow in the footsteps of Elvis and all the other great Sun artists… like I said it’s an amazing place and no matter how many times you are there. are gone, it’s always special. ”

Sun Studio

Or: 706 Union Avenue

Hours: 10 am-5.15pm Sunday-Thursday; 10 am-6.15pm Friday-Saturday

Tickets: Adults, $ 15; children aged 5 to 11, $ 10

In line: sunstudio.com

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