Memphis is located along the Mississippi River in southwestern Tennessee. The 2017 city population was 652,236, and a metropolitan area population of 1,348,260. The city is the anchor of West Tennessee and the greater Mid-South region, which includes portions of neighboring Arkansas and Mississippi. Memphis is the seat of Shelby County, the most populous county in Tennessee. As one of the most historic and cultural cities of the southern United States, the city features a wide variety of landscapes and distinct neighborhoods.
The first European explorer to visit the area of present-day Memphis was Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto in 1541 with his expedition into the New World. The high bluffs protecting the location from the waters of the Mississippi would then be contested between the Spanish, French, and the English as Memphis took shape. Modern Memphis was founded in 1819 by three prominent Americans: John Overton, James Winchester, and future president Andrew Jackson.
Memphis grew into one of the largest cities of the Antebellum South as a market for agricultural goods, natural resources like lumber, and the American slave trade. After the American Civil War and the end of slavery, the city experienced even faster growth into the 20th century as it became among the largest world markets for cotton and lumber.
Home to Tennessee's largest African-American population, Memphis played a prominent role in the American civil rights movement and was the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1968 assassination. The city now hosts the National Civil Rights Museum—a Smithsonian affiliate institution. Since the civil rights era, Memphis has grown to become one of the nation's leading commercial centers in transportation and logistics. The city's largest employer is the multinational courier corporation FedEx, which maintains its global air hub at Memphis International Airport, making it the second-busiest cargo airport in the world.
Today, Memphis is a regional center for commerce, education, media, art, and entertainment. The city has long had a prominent music scene, with historic blues clubs on Beale Street originating the unique Memphis blues sound during early 20th century. The city's music has continued to be shaped by a multi-cultural mix of influences across the blues, country, rock n' roll, soul, and hip-hop genres. Memphis barbecue has achieved international prominence, and the city hosts the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, which attracts over 100,000 visitors to the city annually.
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