The Overton Park Shell
The Works Progress Administration and City of Memphis built the Overton park Shell in 1936 for $11,935. Of 27 WPA Shells built nationwide, this is one of the few remaining. However, several time city officials slated it for demolition. The Shell has hosted performers from across Memphis neighborhoods, musicians from all of our major recording studios, and stars from around the world. On July 30, 1954, Elvis Presley launched his performing career from this stage. During the civil rights era, blues artists and fans ignored a culture of segregation together for the Memphis Country Blues Festivals (1966-1969), demonstrating music's unifying power. Most concerts at this civic facility have been free and the programming has been as diverse as the city's residents.
The Levitt Shell at Overton Park
At its dedication, the Overton Park Shell pledged itself "to the future of music in Memphis." Musical styles have ranged from blues to opera, symphonies to Chickasaw chants, religious services, theater, and dance. First, the Memphis Open Air Theatre programmed light opera and musicals with orchestra (1938-1951). Then the local musicians union stage "Music Under the Stars" (1947-1977). Yet in 1985 civic budgetary restraints left the shell to deteriorate, and it was scheduled to be razed for
a parking lot. Memphians responded, forming Save Our Shell, Inc. to oversee events and upkeep (1985-2003). Since 2008, Friends of the Levitt Foundation have given Memphis 50 free performances annually. The founding pledge remains a guiding principle today.