Country Music Hall of Fame

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Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips

August 28, 2015 - June 12, 2016

Watch A Tribute to Sam Phillips at Music City Roots

One of the most innovative and inspiring figures in the history of American music, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips introduced the world to Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, and many more. The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum explores Phillips’s life and career with the exhibition Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips, which opens August 28, 2015.

Co-curated by Presley biographer Peter Guralnick, author of the forthcoming biography Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll, the exhibition takes an in-depth look at Phillips and the social and cultural impact of the music he captured on such revolutionary recordings as Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right,” and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.”

More than merely creating a sound, Phillips initiated a sensibility. Working in Memphis in the 1950s, he preached the value of self-belief and “individualism in the extreme” to both country and blues performers, encouraging artists not to polish their sound. “I have one real gift,” he told David Halberstam, “and that gift is to look another person in the eye and be able to tell if he has anything to contribute, and if he does, I have the additional gift to free him from whatever is restraining him.”

With Sun Records and the recording studios he owned, Phillips created a progressive oasis in heavily segregated Memphis. He worked to challenge the cultural assumptions of the day, blur color lines, and instigate needed social change. The result was a straightforward and soulful sound that helped develop rock & roll out of a country-blues mix. Musical integration eventually undermined barriers of racial segregation and discrimination as the Civil Rights movement gathered force.

The exhibit is accompanied by an exhibit catalog, also titled Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips.  Published by the museum’s Country Music Foundation Press, the volume includes dozens of archival photographs and beautiful color images of many of the artifacts in the exhibit. The book is available in the Museum Store.

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Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips is funded in part by a grant from Humanities Tennessee, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Upcoming Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips Programs

Past Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips Programs

Watch “Blue Suede Shoes” at Sixty: Remembering Carl Perkins

Watch an interview with Peter Guralinck

Watch As Legendary Producer Rick Hall Talks About Sam Phillips

Listen to our Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips playlist on Spotify