On Beale Street

On Beale Street

Elvis Presley, Sun Records, and the birth of rock ’n’ roll (1954 Memphis, Tennessee)

Living in Memphis in 1954, Johnny's world is completely segregated—until he starts sneaking out to Beale Street at night. Beale Street, with its music clubs, is on the wrong side of the tracks, but it’s the only place Johnny can hear the blues, which is all he cares about. It’s also near Sun Records, where Johnny finds himself working for Sam Phillips—and witnessing history in the making when an up-and-coming musician named Elvis records his first song. Nobody has heard anything like it.

All at once Johnny is pulled into a storm of controversy around this new kind of music, just as racial tensions are reaching a breaking point. What started out as a part-time job and a way to get behind the scenes of a record label has gotten out of control. As songs like Elvis's start rising up the charts, Johnny sees the power that music has to bring people together—while secrets from the past threaten to tear his black-and-white life apart.

In this searing, cinematic novel, acclaimed writer Ronald Kidd tells a coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of race conflict and the birth of rock ’n’ roll.

“Kidd portrays the music scene with the enthusiasm of a blues fan while mining the layers of racism in a town where ‘there was black. There was white. But there was never gray.’ Johnny has an affinity for the gray, and Sun Records begins to feel like home, ‘a place where people didn’t care if you were black or white.’ Johnny’s journey of self-discovery is rooted in a vividly described setting and well-drawn characters.”

Kirkus Reviews

“This novel is a fascinating glimpse into the musical world of Beale Street, the society that was the segregated South, the origins of rock and roll, and one teen’s quest for the truth about his father. Accurate historical details are skillfully woven into what becomes an absorbing search for personal identity.”

School Library Journal