MEMPHIS: The Inspiration For The Story

MEMPHIS: The Inspiration For The Story

Staff Report

Memphis disc jockey, the late Dewey Phillips — also known as “Daddy-O-Dewey” is thought by many musical historians to be the person most responsible for integrating American radio from 1948 to 1958, is also the inspiration behind the culture-analyzing, Broadway musical MEMPHIS. His struggle to integrate American music and popular culture in the City of Memphis made for an Tony Award-winning musical.

In 1950s Memphis, Dewey Phillips’ nightly radio show, “Red Hot and Blue” had a format that integrated the airways with rhythm and blues, pop, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and country music. He was primarily known for playing Elvis Presley singing “That’s All Right” and for doing Elvis’ first radio interview in 1954.

By showcasing both black and white musicians, he was instrumental in integrating musical tastes and promoting wider acceptance of black artists, allowing in turn rockabilly and rock n’ roll to emerge as national trends. By 1954, his shows were popular throughout the mid-South among both white and black audiences.

During the years of his “Red Hot and Blue” broadcasts on WHBQ, he had the number one show with a biracial teen audience. His disc jockey style used on this program was that of the now stereotypical character of the hyperactive, fast-talking, crazy-acting disc jockey. Unfortunately, Dewey Phillips had some serious mental issues that would end his career.

But he ruled the Memphis airwaves for ten years until he was fired by WHBQ in 1958 for refusing to go along with the station’s new Top 40 format. With a major drug problem, he moved from one small station to the next for the last ten years of his life. Phillips died in 1968 from heart failure at the age of 42.

Get a chance to win two tickets to the musical the Associated Press said “is the very essence of what a Broadway musical should be.” To enter, email ( or text (470-387-8794) your name and contact information. Winner will be announced Tues., Feb. 5. Buy your own tickets by visiting the Walton Arts Center website

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