MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There’s no doubt Memphis is a music city. A new exhibit shows you how an outdoor venue in Midtown played a critical role in that distinction.

WREG Investigator Jessica Gertler gave us a look at the exhibit at the Overton Park Shell that hopes to have big impact. It’s an iconic stage with more than 8 decades worth of history.

Cole Early spoke about the Overton Park Shell’s long history.

“It was called the Memphis Open Air Theater back then. It goes on and on, so many different types of stories. All different types of stories,” Early said.
 
Early took us backstage at the Overton Park Shell, where they’ll soon unveil rare archives to the public.
 
“The archives are named for Connie Abston,” Early said. “But, then her stepmother was Marguerite Piazza, who started performing here in the 50s. She was a very famous opera singer.”
 
Her family, along with a state grant, helped this exhibit come to light.
 
“We started brainstorming ways that we could celebrate the history,” Early said.
 
Hundreds of Memphians have contributed their Shell-related materials, like photos, old ticket stubs and playbills, filling the walls with memories.

Featuring the legends who’ve performed decades prior, like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Booker T. and the MGs and many more.
 
“How everything kind of comes back to the shell. That’s kind of a recurring thing,” Early said.
 
Starting in June, marking the 86th anniversary, they’ll start offering tours.
 
“People will hear stories, they’ll sort of be able to connect time periods,” Early told us.
 
The exhibit highlights how the outdoor stage came close to demolition multiple times, but the community fought to preserve its legacy.

In March, the shell decided to become self-sustaining.  It returned to its historic name — the Overton Park Shell — allowing them to launch projects just like this.
 
“Taking our mission out besides just these walls,” Early said. “The tours haven’t even started yet, and we’re not even finished with this.”

The money generated from the tours will go back to preserving those archives as well as the stage.Keep in mind, the Overton Park Shell is a non-profit and it receives no money from the city or county.