1928 Poplar Ave Memphis, TN 38104 · (901) 300-3011
Since its founding, The Overton Park Shell played a crucial role in Memphis’ rise to critical acclaim as the epicenter of blues and birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. In 1954, The Shell hosted the first-ever public performance of a young Elvis Presley, who opened for headliner Slim Whitman and instantly stole the show in what music historians call the first-ever rock and roll show.
In the years since, countless legends have taken the stage: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Furry Lewis, Booker T. & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, Lisa Marie Presley, Mavis Staples, Sid Selvidge and many more. The Shell continues to be an essential milestone for local artists on their way to national recognition.
Multiple times throughout its history, The Shell’s music grew quiet and the stage grew dark as it neared demolition. With characteristic grit and tenacity, the Memphis community fought to preserve its legacy.
In the ’60s, the Memphis Arts Center planned to raze The Shell and build a $2-million theater in its place. A petition led by orchestra conductor Noel Gilbert quickly circulated in protest, gathering 6,000 signatures to save the beloved landmark.
In 1982, the NCCJ (National Conference of Christians and Jews) proposed raising funds for restoration and were able to rename the Shell in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish humanitarian and diplomat who bravely and creatively saved the lives of more than 15,000 Jews by issuing them Swedish “protective passes” and building 30 “Swedish houses”, on which he hung Swedish flags and declared Swedish territory to provide protection.
In 1984 The Shell escaped plans to turn the space into a parking garage. The new plans were underway, until local environmentalist John Vincent Hanrahan spearheaded a herculean effort to save and restore the beloved venue. After his sudden passing in 1986, Hanrahan’s family and friends formed Save Our Shell, Inc. in his honor and brought music back to The Shell’s stage. Save our Shell, Inc. presented hundreds of free concerts at The Shell.
The City of Memphis partnered with the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation in 2005, to launch an ambitious plan to renovate The Shell, bring it back to life and present 50 free concerts to the Mid-South, renamed as the Levitt Shell. On September 4, 2008, The Levitt Shell joyfully reopened with new equipment, pavilions, concessions and an exciting free-music schedule. Throughout The Shell’s vibrant, 17-year partnership with the Levitt Foundation, The Levitt Shell presented more than 600 free concerts and served more than 150,000 patrons annually, becoming a beloved music destination. The Levitt Foundation’s catalytic investment gifted the community of Memphis with a vibrant space for free music, a gift that lives on stronger than ever today and has allowed The Shell to enter into a new chapter. We are forever grateful for the Levitt Family.
On March 3rd, 2022, The Shell returned to its historic name of the Overton Park Shell, a change that indicates the beginning of a new era focused on our local Memphis community. Stay tuned as a new verse to our continuing song unfolds.