The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Memphis Music Scene


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.


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


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.


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


Phillips launches Sun Records.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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