I know you’ve heard it. It was a hit a while back. The lyrics are a love story to the city of Memphis. Everything is in there…blue suede shoes, Elvis, Beale Street. Perhaps the most unrecognizable part of the song concerns a woman named Muriel. You see, she plays piano…at the Hollywood. This piano…
Muriel isn’t around anymore, but the song “Walking in Memphis” forever immortalizes her and the time she did a little number with a singer called Marc Cohn.
The Hollywood is a hole in the wall cafe out on Highway 61, south of Memphis near Tunica, Mississippi. It’s in the Delta – that area of the state where the Big Muddy rolls by to the sound of the blues. This was before Cohn made it big. He stopped in for some dinner (catfish in fact) and ended up listening to a 70 year old woman singing spirituals for almost two hours.
When she finally took a break, he struck up a conversation with her and shared the story of how he lost his mother at a young age. As Cohn himself tells it:
“She was real curious, she seemed to have some kind of intuition about me, and I ended up telling her about my family, my parents, how I was a musician looking for a record deal, the whole thing. Then, it must have been about two in the morning, she asks me up to sing with her and we do about an hour, me and this lady I’d never met before, hardly a song I knew so she’s yelling the words at me. Then at the end, as the applause is rising up, she leans over and whispers in my ear, she’s whispering, You’ve got to let go of your mother, child, she didn’t mean to die, she’s where she’s got to be and you’re where you have to be, child, it’s time to move on.”
Move on he did…”Walking in Memphis” became Cohn’s biggest hit. He got to see Muriel again before she died a few years later. Their picture together hangs on the walls of The Hollywood to this day, along with the lyrics about that night he sang with Muriel.
If you are ever near Tunica, Mississippi, find The Hollywood. Go in and grab a seat and order the fried pickles.
Soak up the atmosphere of the place and image Muriel at the piano singing away on some Friday night years ago when a young man looking for a dream walked through the door.
Magic happens in the most unexpected places…