Graceland steward Jack Soden and soul man Wilson Pickett among 9 named to Memphis Music Hall of Fame

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Music Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class of 25 luminaries at a rousing ceremony 12 years ago, honoring legends spanning generations and genres, from Elvis Presley to ZZ Top to Three 6 Mafia.

In later years, dozens of other musicians who recorded, taught and performed in Memphis secured their place in the Hall of Fame in this cradle of blues, soul and rock 'n' roll — Justin Timberlake, Tina Turner, Carla Thomas, to name a few.

This year, it will be inducting its 100th member of the Memphis music landscape with a class of nine, including soul singer Wilson Pickett, rapper, producer and songwriter Jazze Pha, and Jack Soden, who teamed up with Elvis' former wife Priscilla Presley to open Graceland as a tourist attraction in 1982. That was five years after the singer and actor died in Memphis at the age of 42.

Today, Graceland, Elvis' former home-turned-museum, is an American tourist mainstay, annually drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to this city by the Mississippi River.

In the hall's announcement of its 2024 class, it noted that Soden in 1981 was hired “to plan and execute the opening of Graceland to the public, despite recommendations that it be sold to avoid bankruptcy.”

Graceland has evolved from a museum on the 13-acre property where the house sits to a sprawling entertainment complex that features a soundstage, exhibition space, restaurants and a 450-room hotel.

All under Soden's “watchful eye,” the Hall of Fame said in a news release.

“Under Soden's leadership, Graceland has kept Memphis' music profile strong with an annual economic impact of $200 million,” the news release said.

By the early 1980s, Graceland had become a burden on Presley's estate, which faced high estate and inheritance taxes. Accountants and bankers wanted to sell the home, but Priscilla Presley thought that opening the house to tourists could solve the financial problems while keeping Elvis’ legacy alive. She received a $500,000 investment and, with Soden, visited other tourist attractions — Hearst Castle, Will Rogers’ home, even Walt Disney World — for inspiration.

Graceland opened for tours on June 7, 1982. They sold out all 3,024 tickets on the first day.

“We had no idea whether 30 people were coming, or 300, or 3,000 that first day, Fortunately, it was the latter,” Soden told The Associated Press in a 2012 story about Graceland's 30th anniversary.

Since it opened, Graceland has helped keep the King of Rock 'n' Roll in the consciousness of fans, along with new releases of compilations of his music, constant pop culture references and films such as “Elvis” in 2022 and “Priscilla” a year later.

Soden thanked the Hall of Fame in a statement provided to The Associated Press.

“It is an honor to be selected to join such a distinguished group of talented singers, musicians, and pioneers who created Memphis’ rich legacy of music," Soden said. “Music is the soul of Memphis and draws millions of visitors from about the world each year who want to immerse themselves in the story — from Graceland to Beale Street and everything in between.”

Soden joins Pickett, who recorded “In the Midnight Hour” at Stax Records in Memphis. Stax is known for producing some of soul music's most lasting and seminal hits, including Otis Redding's “(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay,” Sam & Dave's “Soul Man,” Eddie Floyd's “Knock on Wood,” and “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the MGs.

“Wilson Pickett’s career exploded when Atlantic Records sent him to Memphis,” said Jeff Kollath, Executive Director of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. “Working with Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd, and others, Pickett found his voice and became a Southern soul standard-bearer.”

Along with Jazzy Phe, the other 2024 inductees are soul singer James Carr ("Dark End of the Street"); pop group The Gentrys ("Keep on Dancing"); opera singer Kallen Esperian; Southern soul keyboardist and songwriter Spooner Oldham; singer-songwriters Rhodes, Chalmers, Rhodes; and Kevin Kane, longtime head of Memphis' tourism bureau.

They will be honored at a ceremony on Sept. 27 in Memphis.