Remembering the Marketplace of the Midsouth

Overton Park Shell

Another WPA? project,The shell at Overton Park was the site of Elvis' first public performance as a recording star on July 30th 1954. It has also hosted The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, and Neil Diamond.

Address Save Our Shell, Inc. Contact John Larkin at 1928 Poplar Avenue Memphis, TN 38104 901.274.6046



Ralph Dunbar produces two summer seasons of light opera and theater on a dirt stage at the foot of a natural bowl shaped slope in Overton Park. Dunbar begins to advocate the construction of a permanent amphitheater on the site.


The Overton Park Orchestra Shell is constructed for $11,935 by the Work Progress Administration (WPA) and the City of Memphis. The facility has enough wooden benches for 4,000 people and is dominated by the reinforced concrete orchestra shell patterned after the acoustical designs of similar shells in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis.

Sept.13, 1936

Dedication ceremonies are attended by 6,000 as the newly formed Memphis Symphony Orchestra performs. The dedication program calls the Shell "A pledge to the future of music in Memphis".


The Memphis Open Air Theatre (MOAT) produces the first of fourteen seasons of light opera and musicals.


The Memphis Federation of Musicians inaugurates its "Music Under the Stars Program" series which will provide six to eight events over thirty years to come.

July 30, 1954

Elvis Presley steals the show from headliner Slim Whitman in what music historians worldwide regard as "The First Rock and Roll Show". Elvis is billed as "Ellis Presley".


The fence is removed and the Shell resumes a schedule of free performances, thus ending the controversy over rock concerts.


At the request of the National Council of Christians and Jews, the Shell is named after Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat responsible for saving thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps.

In 1985, the stage of the Raoul Wallenberg Shell in Overton Park remained dark for the first season since its construction. Many Memphians thought the dormant and somewhat dilapidated amphitheater was doomed to be displaced by a parking lot. Late in 1985, volunteers began repairs to the facility at NO COST to the city. A petition drive was begun, weekly meetings were held and the "Save Our Shell" committee was born.


Save Our Shell (SOS) Inc. has provided quality entertainment since 1986. Year 2002 - 54 performances for 63,000 people. Year 2003 - 63 performances for 75,000 people.

October 2004 City of Memphis closes the Shell once again..............





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