Memphis Monday: A Look at the Man Behind the Musical, Dewey Phillips


Wildman DJ Dewey Phillips introduced white kids to "race" music.

The premiere of Memphis The Musical is fast approaching and to highlight some of the cool aspects of the show, we’ll be doing a short series called “Memphis Monday” every Monday through Sept. 22.

Before fans feast their eyes on the high-energy regional premiere of the show, it’s important to showcase the man behind the musical, real-life disc jockey, Dewey Phillips.

We recently had the chance to catch up with Tom Bonner, a retired broadcaster who worked with the legendary disc jockey on WHBQ for a short time in the 1950s. Read more about how Phillips took the music scene in Memphis and across the country by storm and watch our special interview with Bonner below!

Early Start


Dewey Phillips was credited with introducing Elvis Presley to the world on Memphis’ WHBQ radio station.

Phillips got his first 15-minute radio slot in 1949, jumping into it from his job managing the record department at the W.T. Grant 5 and 10, where he spun a mix of the latest records – hillbilly and “race” music, sacred and profane, Frank Sinatra and Wynonie “Mr. Blues” Harris – over the store’s PA.

From the start, he drew an equally mixed, equally eclectic in-house audience – as many young as old, as many black as white – in a

segregated store, in segregated Memphis, located in the heart of the Deep South. His radio show, which aired on WHBQ, was titled “Red, Hot and Blue.” Within a year, he was on the air six nights a week, two hours a night.

Top Record Survey from July 18, 1958 provided by Tom Bonner

Top Record Survey from July 18, 1958 provided by Tom Bonner

 TV Time

His television show, Pop Shop, went on the air in 1957. A version of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, the show was, for a period, the biggest thing going in Memphis.

Don’t miss your chance to see this award-winning musical Sept. 5-28! Get your tickets to show- single tickets are available now! Purchase online here and get more information about the show–including special events– here.

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