It was a chilly afternoon on December 4, 1956, and history was about to be made at a small recording studio on Union Avenue.
Sun Studio was hopping that afternoon, as Carl Perkins was behind the mic, recording some tracks with his band mates and a young Jerry Lee Lewis at the piano. Sam Phillips was at the mixing board, and outside, traffic cruised past the tiny building, drivers blithely unaware of the music magic taking place inside. Johnny Cash popped in, hoping to get paid for some of his work so he could go Christmas shopping for wife Vivian and the kids. Then the doors swung open, and in walked the King of Rock-and-Roll himself.Elvis Presley was the hottest recording artist in the country, just stopping by after a trip to Vegas to say hello. Four musicians, a piano, microphones, and guitars. It was inevitable that a jam session would break out.
Phillips, wisely seeing the opportunity for some good publicity, called the newspaper, and Press-Scimitar reporter Bob Johnson and a photographer arrived, ready to capture the moment for the next day's paper.
The camera clicked away, and the city awoke the next morning to an image that would become as famous as the foursome themselves.
The caption dubbed the group "The Million Dollar Quartet."
When the magazine staffers sat down to begin the process of adding and cutting from our annual Who's Who list, the Big Question was at the back of everyone's thoughts: Who are we going to put on the cover this year?
Two years ago, we brought five Who's Who together – Craig Brewer, Henry Turley, Kallen Esperian, DeAngelo Williams, and Deanie Parker – for a cover shoot at the Orpheum. The response from readers was overwhelming. In years past, we'd used iconic images of the city itself on our cover. But it's not just the river, trolleys, The Peabody, and so on that make Memphis, well, Memphis. It's the people. It felt right.
Last year, we photographed AC Wharton, Dr. Scott Morris, Jackie Nichols, and Linn Sitler at the historic country church now at the Stax Museum.
We had big shoes to fill, and I think we did.
When the four you see on this year's cover had been contacted and the Sun location secured, art director Hudd Byard and I tossed around ideas about how to shoot them.
It only took a minute before the light bulb went on.
Meet the new Million Dollar Quartet. Each has given Memphis something that makes the city every bit as magical as it was when the original photo was snapped five decades ago. Thomas Boggs not only created the city's hippest watering holes and the best burgers in town, he's also given much back to the city through his work on various boards and charities. For more than 30 years, Dave Brown has been the trusted face telling us what we could expect from the skies, as well as being a tireless spokesman for the dangers of driving under the influence. The beautiful, talented Amy LaVere is keeping our music tradition alive, sharing the Memphis sound with the country while touring from coast to coast, even hitting the big screen in both Walk the Line and Black Snake Moan. And how many students in college classrooms across Tennessee have Steve Cohen to thank for the lottery scholarship that got them there?
Although Cohen, in his self-deprecating way, jokingly referred to the group as "the quarter quartet" during the photo shoot, I couldn't disagree more. Each, in his or her own way, is making Memphis the city it is today, and we're lucky to have 'em.
We've got a whole year before we have to decide about the next group, and I think we'll need it.