The Lorraine Hotel
and then Motel
Originally this was a whites-only hotel in a very segregated Memphis, Tennessee. In 1945, Walter and Loree Bailey bought it and renamed it the Lorraine Hotel (after his wife Loree and the popular jazz song, “Sweet Lorraine”).
They would add a kitchen and a two floor extension at the back with about 39 more rooms, in addition to drive-up parking, large front windows, and a swimming pool. The Lorraine’s new design reflected the space age-inspired googie style (geometric shapes and bright colors) that was popular in California in the fifties and sixties and was also typical of motels at the time. The Lorraine Motel reflected the monumental changes experienced by blacks in postwar America. It is also where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It then fell into disrepair. It was rescued and became the National Civil Rights Museum -- one of the most moving museums I have ever been through.
The restaurant was added because in the era of segregation, Black travelers couldn’t just go eat anywhere. The Lorraine was a safe haven for Black travelers and the motel was listed in “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” By the 1960s the Lorraine was also a place for business meetings and weddings, as well as events for the Black community. Its' guestbook was a veritable who’s who of the black community in the forties, fifties, and sixties.
It was also a vibrant place for music. While music legends like Cab Calloway and Count Basie stayed here, many of the musicians associated with Stax Records, the legendary soul and R&B label, stayed and hung out here when they were in Memphis for studio sessions. The Stax Studio (also worth a visit if you are in Memphis) was just a few blocks away from the Lorraine Motel, which became a creative oasis of sorts. Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd are just a few who stayed here. Wilson Pickett’s “The Midnight Hour” and Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood,” were composed at the Lorraine Motel.
Isaac Hayes reminisced, “We’d go down to the Lorraine Motel and we’d lay by the pool and Mrs. Bailey would bring us fried chicken and we’d eat ice cream. We’d just frolic until the sun goes down and [then] we’d go back to work” at Stax Records.
Mrs Bailey suffered a stroke at the sound of the shots being fired at Martin Luther King, Jr. She died. Mr Bailey continued to run the motel but never rented out room 306 again. By the 1980s Mr. Bailey declared bankruptcy.
This place was a safe haven, housed joy, made music and heroes. It's also a place of deep pain. If you get a chance visit the museum.