“When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies and I was the hero of the movie. So every dream I ever had has come true a hundred times … I learned early in life that without a song the day would never end, without a song a man ain’t got no friend; without a song the road would never bend- without a song. So I keep singing a song.”
On a hot Saturday afternoon in the late summer of 1953, a young man sat in his beat up ford pickup truck in front of The Memphis Recording Studio, where, anyone for 4 dollars a pop could make themselves a record. The truck driver an eighteen year old, aspiring country music singer who made only $40 a week as a deliveryman for crown electric had saved up four dollars to sing and play guitar as a late birthday present for his mother. A woman by the name of Marion Keisker made conversation with the young man. “What kind of singer are you?” She asked him. “I sing all kinds,” he said. “Well, who do you sound like?” she asked. “I don’t sound like nobody,” he replied. “Do you sing hillbilly?” she asked. “Yeah, I sing hillbilly,” he said. “Well, what hillbilly do you sound like?” she asked. “I don’t sound like nobody,” he said.
It was at last the young man’s turn. Ms. Keisker went to the back of the studio to get everything setup and decided to stay back and listen to him sing. For his first number, he chose “My Happiness,” a popular song sung by the Ink spots, and for the his second number, “That’s When your Heart Ache Begins.” On both songs he accompanied himself on guitar. While performing his first number Ms Keisker was very impressed and secretly recorded the last part of the first song and all of the second song.
That Monday morning she gave the tape to Sam Phillips her boss and president of Sun Records. Phillips was very impressed with the young man’s voice. Who would have thought that this silly little recording would soon make a young man the “King of Rock N’ Roll transforming the world of music and entertainment forever.
The name Elvis is known all over the world. It sparks reminiscence throughout the music and movie industry that will never die. Elvis is an icon; he is a name that everyone knows and in a World where hand-held computers/phones take the place of social interaction and companies are built making billions of dollars but don’t create anything “real”, there is a tendency to try to put Elvis into certain “boxes”. Honestly, Elvis can never be explained, in full and even by those who were there with him during his life. Elvis is far too complex to gracefully fit into anything, but his story is one of decades of excellence, and one we would like to share with you.
One hundred miles southeast of his future mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, in a two-room shotgun shack Gladys Presley gave birth to two twins boys. Jessie Garon was born at 4am, but he was sadly stillborn and at 4.35am, Elvis Aaron came into the world. It is known that Vernon claimed he saw a blue light go around the house the moment Elvis was born. Gladys knew she was having twins but the loss of Jessie never left the family. On January 9th, Jessie was buried in Priceville Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Elvis was their only child.
The term “shotgun shack” describes a house so tiny, a bullet fired through its front entrance can fly straight through the house without hitting anything. The Presley home was, in a word, basic, and so were its immediate surroundings.
Located above a highway that transported locals between Tupelo and Birmingham, Alabama, and nestled among a group of small, rough made homes along Old Saltillo Road, Elvis’ birthplace was built by his father, Vernon, with help from Vernon’s brother Vester and father, Jessie, whose relatively “spacious” four-room house sat next door.
These were the humblest of beginnings. In the mid-1930s, in the middle of the Great Depression, East Tupelo was a haven for poor sharecroppers and factory workers — as well as assorted bootleggers and prostitutes — whose meager resources still largely outstripped those of Elvis’ parents. Not only did Vernon and his wife, Gladys, rely on welfare to pay the $15 that Dr. William Robert Hunt charged for delivering Elvis and his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon, but neighbors and friends also had to provide them with diapers.
Confusion over the correct spelling of Elvis’ middle name has existed since Dr. Hunt logged the name “Evis Aaron Presley” in his ledger after the birth. The birth certificate issued by the state of Mississippi shows the spelling “Aron,” which is also found on his draft notice. Elvis’ gravestone in the Meditation Gardens at Graceland, however, is engraved with the more common spelling “Aaron.” Alternate spellings of names were typical in the era of the Depression, particularly in rural communities where educational opportunities were limited and the written word was less significant than it is now. Since the Presleys chose Elvis’ middle name to honor their friend and church songleader Aaron Kennedy, who was himself a twin, it is likely that “Aaron” was the intended spelling.
Before Elvis was born, Gladys earned $2 a day at the Tupelo Garment Company, while Vernon worked at various odd jobs, including one on the dairy farm of Orville S. Bean. With $180 that he borrowed from Bean after Gladys became pregnant in the spring of 1934, Vernon set about constructing a family home, and he and Gladys moved in that December. Today, as part of a tourist attraction that includes a small museum, memorial chapel, gift shop, and wooded park on the renamed Elvis Presley Drive, the house that Vernon Presley built looks markedly different than when the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll first tested his vocal cords there.
Elvis’ family life was turbulent during his early years, largely due to the poverty and financial circumstances of his parents, Vernon and Gladys.
“I never felt poor. There were always shoes to wear and food to eat – yet I knew there were things my parents did without just to make sure I was clothed and fed”
Although material goods weren’t readily available during his early years, Elvis never lacked the one thing that is most important to any child: the love of his parents. Vernon was a dedicated father and Gladys adored her only child, forming a bond that was so close, it extended to lifelong baby talk between the two, such as Elvis calling her by the pet name of Satnin’.
Scared to let him out of her sight, Gladys accompanied Elvis everywhere, including the tiny First Assembly of God Church, where her uncle Gains Mansell was the preacher and where Elvis got his first real taste of music. At age two, he would slide off his mother’s lap, climb onto the platform in front of the 25-strong congregation, and stand before the choir, trying to sing along even though he was too young to know the words to the hymns.
(The first church Elvis and his family attended, the Assembly of God Church. )
Additionally, mother and son regularly visited the Priceville Cemetery, where his twin brother, Jesse Garon, was buried in an unmarked grave. Although bolstered by Gladys’ belief that, as reported in a September 1956 issue of TV Guide, “when one twin died, the one that lived got all the strength of both,” Elvis grew up in his brother’s shadow.
Nevertheless, he was always mindful of Jesse’s presence watching over him, ensuring that he tried to do the right thing. This, together with the special confidence he shared with his mother, encouraged an insular quality that Elvis would retain to the end of his days.
Many who knew him, including his wife, Priscilla, have attested to a loneliness that no one could resolve, and while this side of Elvis was greatly exacerbated following Gladys’ death during his early twenties, it stemmed from a childhood in which he often retreated into his own little world — a world defined by a strong attachment to his mother and the florid thoughts of his fertile imagination.
Life was fairly settled during Elvis’ first three years. He and his parents formed a tight-knit trio, rarely socializing or venturing far from the family home — but everything changed in May 1938 after Vernon went to prison for his part in altering and cashing a check he received from Orville Bean.
Vernon was indicted for forgery, along with Travis Smith and Luther Gable, and sentenced to three years at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. He served only eight months of his sentence, but during that time Bean repossessed the Presley home, forcing Gladys and Elvis to move into a couple of temporary homes: next door with Vernon’s parents, and then on Maple Street in Tupelo, where they lived with Gladys’ cousins Frank and Leona Richards.
If this was a difficult period for Vernon, it wasn’t much easier for his wife and son. Gladys struggled -and sometimes failed to make ends meet taking in laundry and working as a seamstress, while Elvis suffered through the realization of the separation anxiety that he felt with regard to his father.
When Vernon was released in February 1939, a month after Elvis’ fourth birthday, Gladys and Elvis were still living with Frank and Leona Richards on Maple Street. Before long, however, they were back in East Tupelo and, following a brief stay with Vernon’s older brother Vester (who was married to Gladys’ sister Clettes), living in a succession of low-rent homes.
One of the few constants in Elvis’ life during his early years was the First Assembly of God Church, where he and his parents sang in the choir, as well as Lawhon Elementary School on Lake Street, which he began attending in the fall of 1941.
Already a loner, used to playing on his own more than with his few friends, Elvis soon learned to read, and he would while away hours on end with his small collection of comic books. He also became reacquainted with his father’s absence.
(Captain Marvel Jr. Comic Book on the nightstand in Elvis’ bedroom in his boyhood home at Lauderdale Courts)
(Elvis loved comic-books. His favorite superhero was neither Superman or Batman, but instead, Captain Marvel’s teen sidekick, Captain Marvel Jr. Elvis styled his trademark haircut after the character and even some of his stage outfits (half-cape over shoulder and lightning bolt insignia) were directly inspired from the kid superhero. His childhood collection of Captain Marvel Jr. comics books can be found on display at the Graceland Mansion.)
(Elvis reading Captain Marvel Jr while on a train)
Benefiting from increased work opportunities created by America’s entry into World War II, the Presleys relocated to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where Vernon and found employment in the Moss Point Shipyard near Pascagoula in 1940.
The relocation was short-lived. Missing their family and friends, Vernon and Gladys returned to East Tupelo about a month later. Vernon spent most of 1942 living apart from his family in Mississippi, Alabama, and finally in Memphis, Tennessee, where he worked in a munitions plant while returning to East Tupelo to be with Elvis and Gladys on weekends.
Vernon saved enough money by the war’s end to make a $200 down payment on a four-room, $2,000 house on Berry Street. Amazingly, the person selling him the property was none other than Orville Bean, whose altered check had previously landed Vernon in jail.And shortly afterward it was Bean’s daughter, Oleta Grimes, who encouraged Elvis to make his very first public performance, competing in a radio talent contest on Children’s Day at the annual Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show in downtown Tupelo. Grimes, who also happened to be Elvis’ fifth-grade teacher, was impressed by his singing during morning prayers.
It has been said that Elvis won second place by singing, without any musical instruments playing, “Old Shep,” the Red Foley tearjerker about a boy’s dear, departed dog. Elvis’ prize s consisted of $5.00 passes for the rides at the fair
(Evis Presley – October 3, 1945 at the 38th Annual Mississippi – Alabama Fair and Dairy Show in Tupelo. Elvis, aged 10, performed the country classic “Old Shep” and won a fifth prize. This was his first known public performance.)
Elvis’ lack of musical addition was soon resolved when his mother bought him a guitar from the Tupelo Hardware Company for his eleventh birthday. Gladys saw it as a cheap and safe alternative to the bicycle that Elvis originally requested. Taught different chords by his Uncle Vester, Elvis began singing and playing in church and on the WELO Saturday Jamboree, a popular radio talent show broadcast from the local courthouse.
The WELO Jamboree brought Elvis his first direct contact with show business. Mississippi Slim, whose real name was Carvel Lee Ausborn, was the star of the show, combining country music with comedy, and he not only backed Elvis on guitar but also taught him new chords and songs. Slim’s younger brother, James Ausborn, was in Elvis’ class at East Tupelo Consolidated, and sometimes, the boys would visit Slim at the studio of radio station WELO, where he had his own midday show. That way, Elvis would get a further opportunity to gain instruction on what to sing and how to play.
Inspired by the country music he heard on the radio from the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night, as well as the gospel-flavored sounds ringing around church each Sunday morning, Elvis was filled with a hunger to learn and a longing for hanging around musicians such as Slim, who apparently knew some of the big stars, such as singing cowboy Tex Ritter. Yet no one, including Elvis, could have guessed that he’d already embarked on the path that would lead him to fame and fortune.
(Elvis first guitar, January 1946 bought by his mother Gladys from the Tupelo Hardware Store for $12.95 )
(Where Elvis got his first guitar in January , 1947 for $12.75 and the world of music changed)
In the summer of 1946, unable to afford the payments on their Berry Street house, Elvis and his parents moved out of East Tupelo into the neighboring city of Tupelo, and soon found themselves living on its version of Poverty Row. Mulberry Alley was located opposite Shake Rag, Tupelo’s black quarter, and the Presleys’ home there was little more than a hovel.
A half-mile away was Milam Junior High School, where Elvis entered sixth grade in the fall. An average student, he was far too withdrawn to make much of an impression on either his teachers or his classmates. Only when he began to bring his guitar to school in seventh grade to play during lunch would that situation change.
In the meantime, Elvis and his family changed addresses as frequently as Vernon changed jobs. Between Vernon’s earnings — although unambitious, he was rarely unemployed and the pay that Gladys received for working at the Mid-South Laundry, and money from a series of loans, they were able to keep their heads above water, and by the second half of 1947 the Presleys were living on North Green Street, located in a “colored” neighborhood.
Consequently looked down upon by several of his white classmates, Elvis was regarded as an intruder within the local black community, yet he was drawn like a magnet to the music that he heard on the streets, around the churches, and coming out of the clubs and bars. It was earthy, it was wild, and above all, it was exciting, reflecting the participants’ colorful clothes, manner of speech, and in certain cases, mode of behavior. During his teens, the musical and stylistic influences Elvis found in his neighborhood made a real impact in forming his own personal style.
Through seventh and eighth grades, Elvis showed up at Milam Junior High School every day with his guitar, playing it for anyone who cared to listen in the basement recess area during lunch, and he began overdoing his performances with parts of what was commonly known as “race music.”
For many of his schoolmates this was a turnoff , a few even made their point by cutting his guitar strings, yet others at least turned an ear toward his vocalizing of country standards. No one knew they were witnessing the birth of a legend. And no one really seemed upset when they learned that he was moving to Memphis.
Perpetually out of money and by now out of reasons to remain in Tupelo, Vernon and Gladys decided it was time to make a new start across the state line in Tennessee. So they sold their few bits of furniture, loaded up their Plymouth with clothes and other belongings, and never looked back.
In Memphis, they initially lived in a rooming house on Washington Street and then another on Poplar Avenue, eating and sleeping in a single room while sharing a bathroom with three other families in a sixteen-unit house.
Vernon, who worked at a series of factory jobs, applied for public housing to improve their situation, and his request was answered in September 1949 when the Memphis Housing Authority moved the family into an apartment at nearby Lauderdale Courts, in the northern part of the city. The $35 monthly rent was a dollar more than it cost to live on Poplar Avenue, and the place itself was run-down and in need of repair, but at least the Presleys now had enough space with a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a private bathroom.
Lauderdale Courts, with its lively assortment of young families, was located close to downtown attractions, such as the stores and movie theaters along Main Street, as well as the clubs and bars along Beale Street. By most standards, this was a bustling community; to a wide-eyed 14-year-old accustomed to the figuratively gloomier lights of Tupelo it was probably nothing short of inspiring.
(From September In 1949 to January 1953 Elvis Presley and his parents lived in 185 Winchester, #328 at Lauderdale Courts, Public Housing Development project )
(Elvis standing in front of his Lauderdale Apartment Building)
The Courts proved to be a pivotal place for Elvis. For it was from here that a shy Elvis would practice his guitar in the basement laundry room and would also meet and play with other musicians who lived in The Courts. Elvis would walk to nearby Beale Street and gain inspiration from blues artists. You could find him listening to records at Pop Tunes around the corner. Sun Studios was over a mile away. It was here in this close knit community that Elvis met girlfriends, went to Humes School and developed as a performer. More importantly, it was where Elvis would garner affirmation from friends and neighbors as he performed in the wonderfully designed communal courtyards and mall of Lauderdale Courts. Up until this point, Elvis’ music was shared sparingly with family, close friends, and neighbors, but that was all about to change.
(Beale Street, 1950s)
(Elvis with friends from Humes High School)
(Elvis looked so different from the other boys who had crew cuts and blue jeans. He wore black pants and his hair always hung down in his face)
(Teenage Elvis with with his Lauderdale Courts buddies, early 1950s)
At a time when certain rhythm-and-blues recordings closely resembled what would soon be known as rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis began blending the music’s intense, carefree attitude with the look of a roughneck truck driver: long, greased-down hair and sideburns that were at odds with his very polite manners; he began to wear what would later become his trademark flashy clothes , usually an eye-catching combination of pink and black, that he bought with the earnings from his part-time job as an usher at Loew’s State Theater on South Main Street. His appearance garnered much attention, and some of the rougher boys at school responded by threatening to beat him up and cut his hair.
As Elvis’ passion for music became all-consuming, his schoolwork faltered. A mixture of A, B, and C grades during his freshman year at Humes had worsened to the point where he was a straight-C student. He spent much of his free time going to the movies and hanging out in record stores.
He also attended all-night gospel singing sessions with his parents at the Ellis Auditorium, where he would observe some of the more extroverted performers’ animated stage movements. Gospel music summarized the spirituality and physicality that was at the center of Elvis Presley’s musical style, yet when he sang and played guitar at parties he was more likely to sing a pop number by Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, or Perry Como.
(Presley never received a musical education and learned to play by ear. In Memphis, where the Presley family moved when he was 13 years old, Elvis began to more consciously interested in contemporary music, frequently visited the neighborhoods of Beale Street, where he watched black bluesmen and developed his own, style performance wise and his style of clothing.)
By the end of 1952, the Presleys’ combined income exceeded the maximum allowed by the Memphis Housing Authority, so the family moved from Lauderdale Courts to a rooming house on nearby Saffarans Street, and then an apartment at 462 Alabama Street, opposite the Courts. Though the Presleys were forced to leave the housing project, they chose to remain in the same neighborhood.
In April 1953, a couple of months before he graduated from high school, Elvis performed in Humes’ annual Minstrel Show; his piece shocked pupils, parents, and teachers alike with his performance of Teresa Brewer’s “Till I Waltz Again with You.” It was a seminal moment. Like a scene out of one of his future movies, Elvis set aside his own shy personality in favor of a popular and lively persona, and the peculiar-looking young man began to attract the attention of his peers . After graduating from L. C. Humes High School in June, 1953 Elvis went to work for M. B. Parker Machinists, hardly the stuff of legends. However, the fates were conspiring in his favor, the pieces were falling into place, and soon all of Elvis Presley’s dreams would come true. He was about to make his first recording, and to make history.
(L.C. Humes High School. Elvis attended grades 7-12 here. He graduated in 1953. There’s a saying on the top-right of the building: “The whole world here unlocks the experience of the past to the builders of the future.” Saying on left wall: “The hope of democracy depends on the diffusion of knowledge and wisdom.” Elvis said that the very first day he walked into this building he felt like the hairs on his head were standing on end because he was a country boy that had come to a city school, and he was totally scared to death.)
(Elvis High School Diploma June, 1953 – Humes High School ) (Elvis signed 1953 HS year Book)
“I was training to be an electrician. I suppose I got wired the wrong way round somewhere along the line”
The story of Elvis Presley’s discovery begins with a shy, 18-year-old Elvis entering a recording studio in the summer of 1953 to record two songs on an acetate disk at a cost of four dollars for his mothers belated birthday present. The Memphis Recording Service was owned and operated by Sam Phillips, who had been recording rhythm-and-blues artists since 1950. By the time Elvis came to the recording studio, Sam Cornelius Phillips was known as Memphis’ most important independent record producer. He had opened Sun Records in 1952 to record both rhythm-and-blues (R&B) singers and country-western artists.
Phillips enjoyed a national reputation for discovering such talented R&B artists as Rufus Thomas and Junior Parker. Phillips recorded these performers for independent record companies in other parts of the United States, including Chess Records in Chicago and the Modern label in Los Angeles. Phillips financed the recording sessions, paid the musicians, recorded the artists himself (often serving as the studio engineer), and then leased the master recordings to other record companies. His reputation was built on his recordings of blues performers, but he had just begun to work with country singers when Elvis walked into his recording studio for the first time.
Unfortunately, on the day that Elvis decided to stop by, Phillips was not there. His tireless secretary and assistant, Marion Keisker, was running the recording studio alone. She noticed Elvis’ flamboyant clothes and his long, slicked-back hair and engaged him in conversation. Marion asked Elvis what kind of music he sang and who he sang like. His prophetic answer, “I don’t sound like nobody,” intrigued her curiosity, and while Elvis was singing “My Happiness” by the Ink Spots for his acetate record, Keisker also taped him so Phillips could hear him late
In the early 1950s, rhythm-and-blues had evolved from a combination of urban blues and swing. It was called “race music” because R&B musicians were predominantly African American. Phillips firmly believed that the rhythm-and-blues sound could win a big audience. He knew that white teenagers in Memphis were listening to R&B, and he suspected this to be true in other parts of the country as well. Phillips had been known to proclaim, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars
Elvis’ second song for the flip side of the acetate was another Ink Spots song, “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.” His choice of material, two songs by the Ink Spots, an established R&B group, suggests that Elvis may have known of Phillips’ above statement and was hoping the producer would take notice. Phillips listened to the two songs by the unknown singer but did nothing about them, even though Elvis’ natural talent immediately blew Sam Phillips away.
(Crown Electric Logo, where Elvis worked when he was discovered by Sam Phillips)
(Sun Studio Original Building & Logo)
Even though nothing came of his first session at the Memphis Recording Service, Elvis was determined to give it another shot. He returned to the recording service in January, 1954 to record two more songs on acetate. He sang “Casual Love Affair” and a country tune called “I’ll Never Stand in Your Way.” This time Phillips worked the controls. Though he offered the young singer little in the way of encouragement, he did take down Elvis’ phone number and address.
Phillips didn’t call Elvis until Peer Music of Nashville sent Sun Records a demo recording of a ballad called “Without You.” Phillips decided to allow Elvis to record the new ballad. Unfortunately, Elvis could not seem to master the song, so Phillips asked him to sing anything else he knew. Delighted with the opportunity, Elvis eagerly ran through his extensive collection of country songs and R&B tunes. Phillips was impressed enough to suggest that the hopeful singer get together with Scotty Moore, a young guitarist who played with a local country-western combo, the Starlight Wranglers.
Elvis dropped by to see Moore almost immediately. Moore recalls, “He had on a pink shirt, pink pants with white stripes down the legs, and white shoes, and I thought my wife was going to go out the back door — people just weren’t wearing that kind of flashy clothes at the time.” Moore introduced Elvis to bass player Bill Black, and the three musicians spent the long, hot Memphis summer trying to find a sound that clicked.
The trio worked in the recording studio at Sun Records instead of performing in front of a live audience. Recently developed magnetic recording tape made it possible for them to do one take of a song, listen to it, then make adjustments for the next take. Presley, Moore, and Black finally hit upon their sound while they were fooling around during a break one night.
Elvis started singing Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s blues song, “That’s All Right,” with a fast rhythm and in a more casual style than most blues songs, and Moore and Black jumped in. Phillips’ voice boomed out from the control booth, “What are you doing?” None of them really knew. How could they? How could they know that they had stumbled onto a new sound for a new generation?
Phillips was excited about the trio’s sound and recognized its potential. He asked them to refine their unique interpretation of “That’s All Right,” and then he recorded it.
Sam Phillips took a copy of Elvis Presley singing “That’s All Right” to popular disc jockey Dewey Phillips (no relation) for the latter’s Red Hot and Blue radio program. At first Memphis’ hottest deejay hesitated to play the Sun recording because his show was usually reserved for the music of black artists, but on July 7, 1954, he played the record on the air.
The station received dozens of requests for both sides of the disc, and Phillips played the two songs over and over. After receiving 14 telegrams and almost 50 phone calls in a matter of hours, he decided to interview the unknown singer on his program that very night.
Elvis was supposedly too nervous to stay at home and listen to himself on the radio, so he had gone to the movies. His parents, Vernon and Gladys, dashed to the theater to pick him up, and then rushed him to station WHBQ.
Dewey Phillips asked Elvis a variety of questions about his life and his interests, including what high school he had attended. This was a careful tactic on Phillips’ part, for as soon as Elvis said “Humes” the audience knew he was a white man because the school was all white. At that time in 1954, Memphis schools were not yet integrated. “That’s All Right” became a fast-selling record in the Memphis area. Elvis’ first single steadily climbed up the country-western charts by the end of July 1954.
Arthur Crudup – That’s All Right (original version)
“That’s Alright” Elvis Presley release 1954″
He stressed certain lyrics, using a sort of hiccuping sound, while Sam Phillips added a sound, resulting in the famous echo effect. Elvis’ style became the basis of “rockabilly,” the fusion of country music (commonly called hillbilly music) with a rhythm-and-blues sound that has been relaxed and speeded up, or “rocked.” The term rockabilly was not widely known until after Elvis became a household name.
At the time he cut his first record for Sun, there was no word that could adequately describe his style of music. When the press attempted to explain his sound, they usually made a mess of it, often confusing their readers with inappropriate or comical comparisons to other types of music. Elvis was referred to at various times as a “hillbilly singer,” “a young rural rhythm talent,” a “white man…singing Negro rhythms with a rural flavor.” As his first recordings began to spread, Elvis gained recognition for his unique sound.
“People ask me where I got my singing style. I didn’t copy my style from anybody . . . . Country music was always an influence on my kind of music.”
(Sam Philips, Elvis Presley & Marion Keisker )
((Sam Philips & Elvis Presley)
Elvis Presley , Bill Black & Scotty Moore )
(Elvis and Sun Studio in Memphis – Where His Music Career Exploded)
(Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley & Bill Black)
(Scotty, Elvis, Bill on the Louisiana Hayride, 1955)
Blue Moon of Kentucky Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956
“In January 1955, Elvis signs a contract with Bob Neal, who becomes his manager. Elvis and the guys keep on touring on their own and in a package shows with country stars, including package tour of artist from the Hayride. Colonel Parker is involved. These tours had Hank Snow. Drummer D.J Fontana joins Elvis’ band. In the spring, Elvis fails to be accepted on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, a TV show. As always, Elvis’ live shows have a special appeal for the teenagers, mostly women. His unusual sexy moves and good looks start to cause more and more excitement whenever they play. Sometimes the crowds break through the barricades in near riot behavior. Elvis gains more and more popularity and starts to get national attention. Bob Neal’s management may have helped Elvis to break into the national scene, but under his next manager, virtually exploded into fame.
“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ’em all together, I guess.
Elvis in 1956, talking about his way of moving on stage
On August 15th, 1955, Elvis signs a management contract with Hank Snow Attraction, which is owned equally by Snow and Colonel Tom Parker. Bob Neal remains involved as an advisor. Colonel Parker is to be Elvis’ exclusive manager from this time on, and Snow is no longer connected to Elvis. When Parker began to take part officially in Elvis’ career, Elvis was just a country-western singer. Though his style wasn’t traditional and many of his most loyal fans were teenagers, Elvis still toured the country-western circuits and performed with other country stars. His records were played almost exclusively on country stations. If Elvis was going to live up to the potential the Colonel saw in him, he was going to have to be exposed to audiences outside the South on a wide scale.
As logical as this seems, the Colonel’s plan was actually a bold move. After all, Elvis had never stepped foot outside the South, and northern audiences were unaccustomed to Southern musical traditions and sounds.The first step in the Colonel’s master plan was to find a recording company that could give Elvis national and international exposure
On November 20th, 1955, Elvis signs his first contract with RCA Records. Colonel Parker negotiated the sale of Elvis’ Sun contract to RCA, which includes his five Sun singles and his unreleased Sun material. The price is an unprecedented $40,000, with a $5,000 bonus for Elvis. RCA soon re-releases the five Sun singles on the RCA label which were . At the same time Elvis signs a contract with Hill and Range Publishing Company, which is to set up a separate firm called Elvis Presley Music, Inc. Elvis will share with Hill and Range the publishing ownership of songs bought by Hill and Range for him to record. Elvis is the hottest new star in the music business.”
(January 15, 1955 During his association with the Hayride, Elvis meets “Colonel” Tom Parker, a promoter and manager connected with various acts and the ”Louisiana Hayride.” Parker is also the manager for country)
(Elvis after signing his first contract with RCA Records – November 21. 1955 at Sun Studios Memphis)
(Colonel Tom Parker & Elvis Presley )
On January 10th, 1956, two days after his 21st birthday, Elvis has his first recording session for RCA, held at their studio in Nashville. Among the songs laid to tape during the session is Heartbreak Hotel. The Jordanaires, a gospel quartet and popular country back up group, began working with Elvis in the studio during the first RCA sessions and soon start touring with him. They also appear with him in some films and stay his back up group until the late sixties. On January 27th 1956, Heartbreak Hotel and I Was the One is released by RCA and sells over 300,000 copies in its first three weeks on the market. It is soon to go to number one on Billboard’s pop singles charts for eight weeks and hit number one on the country chart and number five on the R&B chart. It becomes the first Elvis single to sell over one million copies, thus earning Elvis his very first gold record award. On March 13, RCA releases Elvis Presley, Elvis’ first album. The album soon goes to number one on Billboard’s pop album charts for ten weeks. It is the first Elvis album to reach over $1 million in sales, thus earning Elvis his first gold album award.
Elvis Presley singing Heartbreak Hotel in 1956
I was The One – Elvis Presley & The Jordanaires 1956
(Above Photos: Elvis Presley, DJ Fontana, Bill Black, The Jordanaires and Scotty Moore Rehearsing at – RCA Studio 1 – July 2, 1956)
(Memphis, 1956– Elvis Presley outside Jim’s Barber Shop on South Main Street. Looks like he’s gettin’ a ticket and funnin’ with the cop as only Elvis could.)
Then on April 1st, Elvis has a screen test for Paramount Studios in Hollywood. He lip synchs Blue Suede Shoes and he performs a scene from the yet unmade film, The Rainmaker, a film he does not end up being in. On April 3rd, 1956, Elvis stars on The Milton Berle Show on ABC, which, for this particular broadcast, it’s done on the deck of the aircraft, USS Hancock. Then April 6th, Elvis signs a seven year movie contract with Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures. Throughout the rest of 1956, as Elvis recorded more material at RCA, he moved further away from the pure rockabilly of Sun Records and closer to a fully integrated rock ‘n’ roll style. By July 1956, when he stepped back into the RCA studios, Elvis seemed to be seeking a bigger, more explosive sound. It was in this session that he recorded two of his signature singles — “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel
From April 23-May 9th 1956 – Elvis has a lukewarm acceptance for his two weeks engagement at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. He is not what the adult audience of Vegas gamblers relates to very well. During these two weeks, Elvis is still at number one in the album and singles charts. Yet the crowds at other concerts get bigger and bigger, wilder and wilder. Elvis’ fame grows dramatically. Some of these shows have to end early due to fan’s storming the stage. Elvis creates pandemonium whenever he goes.
On June 5th, 1956 Elvis is back on The Milton Berle Show, this time in the studio where the show is aired from, this time backed by the Jordanaires with his band. Elvis sings a rather playful but sexual version of Hound Dog, that drives the kids in the crowd wild, but the next day, Elvis is in trouble. It is one of his most controversial performances. This merely serves to fuel his seemingly unstoppable popularity even more.
Elvis on the Milton Berle Show singing “ Hound Dog” which gets Elvis into trouble as he is too sexual in his dancing which drives the girls crazy
On the next show, he dressed up in a top hat and tails, and sings Hound Dog in the right way. He feels sorry for upsetting everyone but couldn’t see the fuss. Then Ed Sullivan, who said he would never have Elvis on his show, changes his tune and gives him a three appearance deal, at the price of $50,000 and is the highest amount ever paid to a singer.
“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it.’
In August, Elvis starts shooting his first film, Love Me Tender, on loan out from Paramount to Twentieth Century Fox. It is originally titled The Reno Brothers, but is given a new title before its release to Elvis sure to be next hit single from the soundtrack. On September 9, Elvis makes the first of three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. He attracts the highest ratings ever for any TV show. Character actor Charles Laughton takes Ed’s place, after he had a car accident. Then later that month, September 26, Elvis Presley Day is proclaimed in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis’ parents join him as he returns to the town of his birth as a big star. He performs two shows at the Mississippi Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, the same fair at which he had performed at age 10. This time there are a hundred national guardsmen surrounding the stage to control the excited fans.
Elvis Presley concert at the Mississippi-Alabama Fairgrounds 1956
Gladys and Vernon Presley, the parents of Elvis Presley is interviewed on September 26, 1956. When Elvis returned on a tour in the town he was born, and performed on the same stage that he did when he was little.
At the Mississippi-Alabama Fairgrounds
On October 28th, Elvis makes his second of three appearances on Ed Sullivan. Then on November 16, Elvis’ first film, Love Me Tender premieres at the Paramount Theater in New York City, opening nationwide in the days following. It becomes a smash hit, and the critics’ reviews aren’t bad for his acting in the film, which is set in American South of the 1800’s Civil War era where Elvis also sings in the film.
Elvis has become a primary symbol of new youth culture in the US. He’s also the most controversial figures. His unique blending of white country and gospel music, black R&B and gospel, white pop music, his particular brand of charisma and talent, and the growing success and controversy. Elvis’ life would never been the same again!
Love Me Tender” Elvis First Motion Picture (1956)
(Memphis, 1956– Elvis Presley outside Jim’s Barber Shop on South Main Street. Looks like he’s gettin’ a ticket and funnin’ with the cop as only Elvis could.)
On January 6, 1957, Elvis makes his third and last appearance on Ed Sullivan. This is the famous show where Elvis was shot from the waist up, even though the year before the camera showed everything Elvis did. Ed asks Elvis not to sing any gospel but Elvis breaks the rule, as he sings Peace in the Valley on the show. Yet Ed tells America that Elvis is a real decent, fine boy and he has been a delight to work with. Ed believes Elvis will go far and Elvis keeps on making records, doing live shows and working hard. In the same month, Elvis started filming Loving You.
Elvis with The Jordanaires last appearance at the Ed Sulivan Show
Too Much & When my Blue Moon Turns to Gold
Gospel Peace in the Valley with
In March, 1957 Elvis buys Graceland for himself, his parents, and his paternal grandmother to live in for $102,500. In May, Elvis started work on his third film, Jailhouse Rock and on July 9th, Elvis second film, Loving You, is released and reaches the top ten at the box office. More hit records come out from the film, with the classic Teddy Bear. On September 27, Elvis returns once more to the town of his birth for a concert. This time it is a benefit for the proposed Elvis Presley Youth Recreation Centre in Tupelo, Mississippi. The grounds include the birthplace of Elvis where he donated to throughout his life.
Elvis Presley Teddy Bear song 1957
On October 17th, Jailhouse Rock, Elvis’ third film is released and goes into the top ten at the box office. The title song is a smash hit. Years later, this film is known as Elvis’ best acting performance, surpassed only by King Creole which comes in 1958. Jailhouse Rock will come to be considered the ultimate classic of all rock opera movies and the Jailhouse Rock production number in the film is recognized as the grandfather of pop/rock music videos, a music format to be used in the 1980’s.
Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock
(Judy Tyler, Elvis Presley’s costar in Jailhouse Rock, was killed in a car accident shortly after production wrapped on the film.)
On November 10th, 1957 Elvis performs a show in Hawaii for the first time. In December that year, Elvis and his family enjoy their first Christmas in Graceland and Elvis officially receives his draft notice, a day he has known would be coming soon.
Elvis in Hawaii Honolulu Stadium, 1957
(Elvis when he first bought Graceland in 1957)
(1957 Elvis stands in front of the gates to Graceland, his mansion in Memphis, Tennessee on April 26th, 1957)
(This is how Graceland looked right before Elvis purchased it March, 1957 for $102,500)
(Graceland at Present)
Elvis and family (Anita Wood they were dating) enjoy their first Christmas at Graceland and Elvis officially receives his draft notice, a day he had known would be coming-
Late January-Early March, 1958 Elvis films and records for his fourth film, King Creole. Then on March 24, Elvis is inducted into the US Army at the Memphis Draft Board and was assigned serial number 53310767. Elvis passed his pre-induction physical and considered his options. Instead of taking the easy route chosen by so many celebrities in his position – entering Special Services to entertain the troops — he decided to show his allegiance to the Stars and Stripes by serving his time as a regular soldier.
In the face of overexposure and negative publicity about his destabilizing influence on American youth, Elvis’ refusal to accept special consideration was viewed by the public in an admirable light. Though he made the most of his last night as a civilian, he seemed understandably upset about leaving his loved ones and giving up the good life. And, while making positive comments to press reporters, he was also said to be privately concerned that, after two years away, he’d never be able to pick up where he left off.
The next day he got his famous G.I haircut at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. March 29, Private Presley arrives at Fort Hood, Texas for basic training and is stationed there for six months. Once the immediate attention subsided, Elvis adapted to life with his fellow recruits, though he seemed desperately homesick at times.
He phoned Gladys at least once a day, and many times both of them were in tears, with Gladys begging him to take proper care of himself and Elvis trying to reassure his worried mother.
While some of the soldiers gave him a hard time about his celebrity status, Elvis soon became friends with other and consequently, by the time he completed basic exercise at the end of May, the teen idol had begun to settle in. He earned his gunman’s medal with a carbine and was classified as a sharpshooter with a pistol.
Elvis had always loved guns, so it made perfect sense that he excelled in these exercises. His parents soon moved to a temporary home near the base. On June 10th, after basic training, while on his first leave, Elvis has a recording session, his last until 1960. In July, King Creole opens and the reviews are the best he will ever have for his acting.
Elvis’ first four movies are nothing like his later musical comedies. Aside from Love Me Tender, the plots of his early movies echo aspects of Elvis’ image or actual events in his life. Loving You was a conventional Hollywood treatment of Elvis’ rise to fame. Jailhouse Rock capitalized on Elvis’ sensual, bad-boy image, and King Creole made use of certain details that paralleled Elvis’ own life. In these movies, Elvis was clearly being groomed to take over for actor James Dean, who died in September 1955.
Elvis appealed to teenage audiences in much the same way as Dean and the young Marlon Brando. An article in Photoplay magazine, published during the shooting of Love Me Tender, indicated that David Weisbart, the producer of Dean’s best-known movie, Rebel Without a Cause, was talking to Elvis about portraying Dean in a movie biography.
Elvis Inducted into the US Army, March 24th, 1958
Ever since her son’s induction, Gladys had been anxious about his well-being and distraught at the thought of his absence for an extended period of time. Now extremely sick and unable to eat, Gladys was admitted to Methodist Hospital on August 9 with acute hepatitis. Having completed his advanced tank training, Elvis was about to commence his basic unit training, but it quickly became clear that his mother’s condition was serious. On August 12 the Army granted him emergency leave. Elvis headed straight for the hospital, and when his mother saw him she appeared to rally. However, during the early hours of Thursday, August 14, 1958, with Vernon by her side while Elvis was at home, Gladys Love Presley succumbed to a massive heart attack. She was just 46. It was a blow from which Elvis would never fully recover.
Elvis broke down several times in the days leading up to his mother’s funeral. He sobbed hysterically while Gladys’ favorite gospel group, the Blackwood Brothers, performed at the service in the Memphis Funeral Home, and he was equally inconsolable at her Forest Hill Cemetery grave site, crying out, “Oh God, everything I have is gone.”
The mourning continued through the next few days as Elvis was granted extended leave. Evidently his fans were grieving too — they sent him more than 100,000 cards and letters, around 500 telegrams, and more than 200 floral arrangements to express their sympathy for his loss. Still, even though it would never be the same, life had to carry on. Elvis returned to Fort Hood on August 24, and within a month he shipped out to join the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor, 3rd Armored Division in what was then known as West Germany.
Along the way, Colonel Tom Parker organized a press conference when Elvis’ troop train arrived in Brooklyn, New York, at which he answered questions about his army duty, his music, and his mom. He offered a heartfelt account of his continued mourning to the assembled reporters:
“Everyone loses their mother, but I was an only child, and Mother was always right with me all my life. And it wasn’t only like losing a mother, it was like losing a friend, a companion, someone to talk to. I could wake her up any hour of the night if I was worried or troubled about something…she’d get up and try to help me.”
Elvis Press Conference before leaving to Germany
Tribute to Ekvi Mother Gladys Presley when she dies on August 14th, 1958
“She’s all I ever lived for. She was always my best girl”
(Elvis Father Vernon concoling a devestaed Elvis after his mothers passing – August 1958)
(Elvis at his Mothers Grave site)
On August 25, Elvis reports back to Fort Hood. From September 19, and boards a troop train to New York and later boards the USS. Randall and sails to Germany, arriving on October 1st. He l was stationed in Friedberg for 18months, maintaining an off base residence in Bad Nauhiem, shared with his father, grandmother and some friends from Memphis. He finds the German fans to be just as wild as those in the US!
Elvis Army Interview , 1958
(Elvis gets his famous GI Haircut – March 25th, 1958) (Elvis is sworn into the US Army)
(Goodbye America, Hello Germany! – Elvis arrives in the port of Brooklyn, where he and 6,000 soldiers depart for service in Germany, 22 September 1958.)
During the transatlantic trip aboard the U.S.S. General Randall, Elvis bonded with a fellow singer named Charlie Hodge, whom he’d met on the troop train to Brooklyn, and together they took charge of a talent show. But without his mother to see or talk to ever again, Elvis seemed lonely and adrift.
In West Germany, there was another press conference and further meet-and-greets during the first few days. Vernon and his mother, Minnie Mae , whom Elvis had affectionately called “Dodger” ever since she had ducked away from a ball he had thrown at her as a child , set up residence with Elvis and his friends Red West and Lamar Fike. Elvis would rise every morning at 5:30, eat the breakfast Dodger had prepared for him, and leave for base by 6:30 in a black Mercedes taxi, before returning for lunch and dinner. The only exception was Friday, when Elvis and his fellow soldiers had to stay late into the evening, cleaning the toilets and their barracks for weekly inspection the following morning. It had been a long time since the King was obliged to do any such chores, yet he mucked in with the other soldiers and did his best to be perceived — during the day, at least — as just a regular guy.
Through November and much of December, Private Presley went on maneuvers at Grafenwohr and was promoted to Private First Class for his endeavors in field exercises. It was reportedly around this time that one of the sergeants introduced him to amphetamines as a means of staying awake during the long hours of training. For Elvis, taking amphetamines quickly became a regular habit.
On January 8th, 1959, Elvis has an interview off camera via Trans – Atlantic telephone by Dick Clark on his American Bandstand Show on ABC-TV. The show honors the stars 24th birthday. On a two week leave, Elvis goes to Munich, then goes clubbing in Paris which includes a visit to the Lido. Back in the US, Colonel Parker kept Elvis’ career alive and well with promotions and hit records releases.
On Sunday, September 13,1959, through a mutual friend , Fourteen-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu gets invited to a party at Elvis’ home soon after her arrival in Germany. She was a brunette, with a sensuous mouth and sultry blue eyes, she was wearing a navy and white sailor dress with white socks and shoes; he, a bright red sweater and tan slacks. Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s” was spinning on the record player.Priscilla, as can be expected, seemed in wonder of the superstar, while Elvis was said to be instantly infatuated with the beautiful stepdaughter of Air Force Captain Joseph Beaulieu. Captain Beaulieu had been transferred to Wiesbaden, a 45-minute drive from Bad Nauheim, just a month earlier, and Priscilla had been invited to visit Elvis at his home by mutual acquaintance Currie Grant, a U.S. Airman and assistant manager at Wiesbaden air force venue the Eagle Club.
Elvis spent the rest of that Sunday evening talking to Priscilla and, amidst a room full of friends, even sang to her. It wasn’t long before he asked Currie Grant to invite her back.
Soon Elvis and Priscilla began dating, and after Elvis met Priscilla’s parents and convinced them that his intentions were honorable, they saw each other frequently during his last few months in West Germany. Because of Elvis’ inability to go out in public unrecognized (and without creating a mob scene), most of his dates with Priscilla consisted of her visits to his house, where they were surrounded by Elvis’ family members and friends. Although a relationship with someone so young could have had a ruinous effect on Elvis’ image, there was surprisingly little publicity about his interest in Priscilla.
Elvis was promoted to sergeant on January 20, 1960, received his stripes on February 11, and was scheduled to be discharged from the Army in early March. Accordingly, he began preparing for the resumption of his life at Graceland and his career in Nashville and Hollywood, sending old girlfriend Anita Wood a French poodle for Christmas and calling her more frequently as his return to America drew closer.
Regardless, word of his relationship with Priscilla did reach the media, and on March 2, the day of his departure from West Germany, press photographers and news cameras captured her somber face as she waved good-bye to her love at the Rhein-Main airbase. The photos ended up in Life magazine, and Priscilla was labeled “the girl he left behind.” Which she was…for the time being.
Footage of Elvis’ final German interview, to be welcomed home by Nancy Sinatra among others
Discharged on Saturday, March 5, after disembarking in Fort Dix, New Jersey, Elvis finally arrived back in Memphis two days later. That afternoon, sitting in his father’s office behind the main house at Graceland, he gave a press conference, during which he acknowledged, yet tried to play down his relationship with Priscilla Beaulieu, focusing instead on how happy he was to be back home. “I just can’t get it in my mind that I’m here,” he told the media.
Elvis Presley- Press Conference 1960 “Home from the Army”
Elvis wasn’t the only Presley to find a new love in Germany. His father, Vernon, met Dee Stanley, who at the time they met, Dee was in the process of divorcing her military husband. Dee returned to America with Vernon after Elvis’ discharge, and the two were married in Huntsville, Alabama, in July 1960. Elvis did not attend his father’s wedding, which led to speculation that the marriage caused friction between the two men. Elvis not only gained a stepmother, but he got three stepbrothers as well.
(Dee Presley on the left of Elvis and her 3 sons in front t of Elvis; she enraged Elvis)
(Vernon & Dee Presley)
As time would tell, Elvis was a changed man when he emerged from the Army. Critics speculated that the damage done to his career during his two years in the Army could be irreparable. Instead, Elvis surprised everyone by trading in the frenzied trappings of his rock ‘n’ roll youth for a more mature image built on the good publicity from his tour of duty. The success of his movies and pop music albums was a testament to the wide appeal of his new, more mellow style.
Elvis Post Army Interview at Graceland
When Elvis returned home in 1960 the stage was set for him to take up a more mature style. The music scene very different than the one he had left. Smooth-sounding teen angels, such as Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, and Connie Francis caught the ears of young listeners, while the dance craze the Twist propelled them across the dance floor.
The Colonel took advantage of the good publicity over Elvis’ tour of duty to promote a more mature Elvis who he hoped would attract a larger audience. Rock ‘n’ roll critics and fans viewed this change as a decline, but in reality it was a deliberate change in Elvis’ image. Elvis and his manager abandoned the notoriety of rock ‘n’ roll for the wider appeal of movies and pop music. In terms of financial success and overall popularity, they made the right decision.
Two weeks after his discharge, Elvis journeyed to Nashville for his first recording session in almost two years. Elvis was joined in the studio by two of his oldest friends, guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana. The famed country pianist Floyd Cramer signed on, and once again the Jordanaires sang backup vocals. During the first session, Elvis cut a single featuring “Stuck on You,” with “Fame and Fortune” on the flip side. In early April, Elvis returned to the RCA studio in Nashville to record the additional tracks that were needed to make an album. By the end of April, Elvis Is Back! had been released. In less than two months, RCA had this brand new Elvis Presley album playing on the radio.
March 21, 1960 RCA Studio B Nashville
Stuck on You
Fame & Fortune
While many have criticized this change, it did not represent a decline in the quality of Elvis’ music. On the contrary, Elvis Is Back represented a peak in the singer’s career, when his maturity and confidence led to a control and focus in his music. Like the pre-army Elvis recordings, this album offered a diverse collection of musical genres, Once again, Elvis’ talent for unifying different styles of music resulted in an innovative and successful album, and it reached No. 2 on the charts.
Not all the songs that Elvis recorded in Nashville were included on the Elvis Is Back album. RCA held back for later release two of his highly acclaimed ballads: “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” The sad tune “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was a clear departure from the kind of music that Elvis sang before he went into the army.
Who could have guessed that “It’s Now or Never,” a reworked version of the 1901 Italian opera-style classic “O Sole Mio,” which had been made popular much later by Mario Lanza who Elvis was a fan ofwould become the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s biggest-selling single? “It’s Now or Never” charted for 20 weeks, holding the No. 1 spot in the U.S.A. for five weeks. Worldwide sales of the tune, according to The Guinness Book of Recorded Sound, eventually exceeded 20 million copies. By quietly serving his country in the army from 1958 to 1960, Elvis had won the hearts and minds of the mainstream press and general public. “It’s Now or Never” received airplay on conservative radio stations that previously wouldn’t have touched a Presley record, thus exposing Elvis to a wider, adult audience.
Mario Lanza “O Sole Mio” in Movie
It’s Now or Never (O Sole Mio)
“It’s Now or Never” featured a new sound that was an international success for Elvis Presley.
On May 8, 1960, Elvis appeared on TV for the first time since his discharge from the army. He was a guest on The Frank Sinatra-Timex Special, also known as Welcome Home Elvis. Colonel Parker had made the deal with the show’s producers months before Elvis was released from active duty. He had hoped that appearing with Frank Sinatra would introduce Elvis as a pop singer to a wide audience made up of adults and pop enthusiasts as well as teenagers and country-western fans.
Never one to take chances, the Colonel made sure Elvis would make a big splash by packing the studio audience with 400 members from one of Elvis’ biggest fan clubs. The program received phenomenal ratings, giving ABC-TV a 41.5 share for that evening. Elvis was paid a staggering $125,000 for a total of six minutes on the air.
Dressed in a conservative but stylish tuxedo, the former teen idol sang Sinatra’s “Witchcraft,” while Sinatra crooned Elvis’ “Love Me Tender.” His choice of clothes, shorter hairstyle, and connections with the Rat Pack indicated that Elvis’ career was taking a new direction. When Elvis and Sinatra sang each other’s songs, it was as though Sinatra was passing on his position as pop idol to the next generation: The Voice, as Sinatra was known in the 1940s, was making way for the King.
Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra – May 12, 1960
Less than a year later, on March 25, 1961, Elvis performed live at the Bloch Arena at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The show was a fundraiser to build a memorial for the USS Arizona, the largest of the eight battleships that had sunk on December 7, 1941, during the surprise Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor. Ticket prices for Elvis’ performance ranged from $3 to $10 a seat, with 100 ringside seats reserved for people who donated $100.
Elvis and Colonel Parker bought 50 of these special seats and donated them to patients from Tripler Hospital in Hawaii. Elvis’ benefit raised more than $52,000 for the memorial fund. On March 30, the Hawaii House of Representatives passed Special Resolution 105 thanking Elvis and the Colonel.The benefit for the Arizona memorial could be considered a good career move in that it helped Elvis become more acceptable to an adult audience, but his career was not the only reason Elvis agreed to do the concert. He had a sensitive, generous nature, and throughout his entire life, Elvis gave freely to charities and other worthy causes, whether he received publicity for it or not.
Five years after this benefit, while in Hawaii filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style, Elvis visited the completed memorial and placed a wreath there. Photographers and reporters rushed in to record the event, but Elvis sent them away. He did not want his visit to the memorial to become a publicity stunt.
After the success of Elvis Is Back and “It’s Now or Never,” Elvis and the Colonel decided it was time to re-recuperate Elvis’ film career as well..
(Elvis arrives in Hawaii on March 25, 1961, for his benefit concert )
The 1961 concert in Hawaii marked Elvis Presley’s last live performance until 1969, and he made no television appearances after the Sinatra special until December 1968. Throughout most of the 1960s, if Elvis’ fans wanted to see him, they had to see him on the silver screen.
In May 1960, Elvis had returned to Hollywood to begin shooting G.I. Blues. The movie’s storyline is about a singer serving in the army in Germany. Producer Hal Wallis borrowed details from Elvis’ own life to flesh out the script just as he had done in the two previous films he made with Elvis. In G.I. Blues, Elvis’ character is not only stationed in Germany, but he’s also a member of a tank division just as Elvis had been.
Like the movies Elvis made before going into the army, G.I. Blues was based on the events of his own life, but it is a musical comedy instead of a musical drama. G.I. Blues was aimed at a family audience, and Elvis’ controversial performing style had been toned down. Even though most of the songs were fast-paced, they don’t have the same hard-driving sound, sexual connotation, or emotional delivery of Elvis’ prior soundtrack recordings.
G.I. Blues was enormously successful, ranking fourteenth in box-office receipts for 1960. The soundtrack album reached No. 1 quickly, remaining on the charts longer than any other Elvis Presley album. Movie critics applauded the new Elvis. They approved of his new image and predicted he would find plenty of new fans among older women. Elvis didn’t share the critics’ enthusiasm for G.I. Blues. He felt that there were too many musical numbers and believed some of them made no sense within the context of the plot. He was concerned that the quality of many of these songs was not as good as the music for his earlier movies.
Elvis was eager to move on to more demanding and serious roles. The western Flaming Star gave him the chance to prove himself as an actor. The movie brought together some of Hollywood’s most notable actors and creative personnel. In this edgy drama, Elvis was able to hold his own with veteran performers John McIntire and Dolores Del Rio. Newcomer Barbara Eden, who later starred in the TV series I Dream of Jeannie, was also featured in the film.
(The drama Wild in the Country was not a financial success for Elvis Presley)
Elvis gave one more shot at serious acting when he was signed to star in the drama Wild in the Country. The film, directed by Philip Dunne, was from a script by playwright Clifford Odets. It features Elvis as Glenn Tyler, a young hothead from the rural South who tries to straighten out his life after serving time in a juvenile hall. The original script for this movie had no original songs, but after Flaming Star’s poor showing at the box office, they added six musical numbers to Wild in the Country. Only four of them made the final cut. Sadly, both Elvis and costar Tuesday Weld were voted the Damp Raincoat Award as the most disappointing performers of 1961 by Teen magazine. This was a clear indication to Elvis and the Colonel that this type of film was not what Elvis’ most devoted fans wanted to see. Elvis did not accept another serious role until the end of his film career.
On March 14, 1961, Elvis and assorted friends, assistants, and bodyguards flew to Los Angeles so he could begin production on his next film, Blue Hawaii. Upon his arrival, he spent a few fun-filled days with friends. Afterward, he recorded songs that would make up the soundtrack.
The soundtrack to Blue Hawaii may have been miles away from rock ‘n’ roll or rhythm and blues, but it gave Elvis the song with which he would close most of his 1970s concerts: “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Blue Hawaii became Elvis’ biggest-selling movie soundtrack. It topped the Billboard albums chart two months after its October 1961 release. It was the No. 1 album in the country for 20 weeks, which set a record for a rock performer or group that lasted until 1977. Blue Hawaii remained on the albums chart for 79 weeks and was awarded double platinum status by the RIAA in March 1992.
After the soundtrack was recorded, Elvis and his entourage flew to Honolulu for a month’s worth of location shooting. Hawaiian fans were as enthusiastic as those on the mainland, persistently trying to get into Elvis’ hotel to see their idol.
The exotic locale was a key element in the promotion of Blue Hawaii and in its success. The scenery provided more than just beautiful cinematography. As a tropical paradise, Hawaii was the perfect setting for romance, and it represented an escape from the everyday world of most viewers. Even the title reinforced the setting, reminding audiences of the beautiful paradise that had become America’s 50th state.
The entertainment industry had taken advantage of the public interest in Hawaii’s admittance to the union with the release of Blue Hawaii on the big screen in 1961 .
The romance and escape that went with these settings became an essential ingredient in the formula for Elvis’ later movies. He returned to Hawaii to make Girls! Girls! Girls! and Paradise, Hawaiian Style and went to Florida to make Follow That Dream; Girl Happy; Easy Come, Easy Go; and Clambake. The movies Fun in Acapulco, It Happened at the World’s Fair, and Viva Las Vegas provide action in obvious places. The films Harum Scarum and Double Trouble offer fabulous adventures in distant countries.
(The songs Elvis Presley sang for Blue Hawaii were essential to the plot of the movie)
Elvis’ performing style in Blue Hawaii and his later films differs a great deal from that of his 1950s films. Gone are the sensual hip movements, leg swivels, pelvic thrusts, and dramatic hand gestures that drove the ladies wild in Loving You. Elvis still moves while he sings, but his style is noticeably toned down. This seemed an appropriate change if Elvis was singing to another character.
Elvis’ toned-down style was less controversial and considered more suited to family entertainment. His musical comedy vehicles were designed to attract the family audience. Elvis, Colonel Tom Parker, Hal Wallis, and Abe Lastfogel wanted to turn Elvis into a mature leading man for the movies.
His new singing style and smoother pop-oriented music helped accomplish that. A version of this image had been introduced in G.I. Blues, but it was perfected in Blue Hawaii, arguably the best of Elvis’ musical comedies.
From January 1964 to May 1966, Elvis recorded nothing but movie soundtracks, mostly in Hollywood. Unsatisfied with his life for complex professional and personal reasons, he did not venture into the Nashville studios to cut any album material. When he did finally decide to record new material, he returned to the studio with new musicians and a new producer, Felton Jarvis.
Elvis went to the RCA studios in Nashville in the spring of 1966 to make a gospel album, How Great Thou Art. As a child of the South, he was steeped in gospel music. Memphis was the center of white gospel music during the 1950s, and as a teenager Elvis had frequently attended all-night gospel sings at Ellis Auditorium. Early in his recording career, he developed the lifelong habit of warming up before each session by singing gospel harmonies with the Jordanaires or with his companions.
Elvis loved all gospel music, but he favored the style of four-part harmony sung by male gospel quartets who were associated with the shapenote singing schools of the early 1900s. A quartet usually included first and second tenors, a baritone, and a bass. As a teenager, Elvis’ favorite gospel quartets included the Blackwood Brothers, whom he knew personally, and the Statesmen, whose lead singer was the colorful Jake Hess.
The Statesmen were known for their emotional, highly stylized delivery, and Hess had a reputation as a flamboyant dresser. So Elvis was delighted when Hess and his latest quartet, the Imperials, joined him in the studio to record “How Great Thou Art,” along with a few secular songs that were released later. Also on board were the Jordanaires and a female backup group.
The arrangements for the gospel numbers consisted of Statesmen and Blackwood Brothers material. For most numbers, Elvis sang as the solo artist while one of the quartets backed him up. A high point of the sessions occurred when Elvis and Hess sang a duet on the Statesmen’s famous “If the Lord Wasn’t Walking by My Side.”
How Great Thou Art proved to be a milestone in Elvis’ career, winning him the first of his three Grammys, this one in the Best Sacred Performance category. He won Best Inspirational Performance for He Touched Me in 1972 and again in that category for the song “How Great Thou Art” from the album Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis in 1974.
Elvis created How Great Thou Art during a time of personal and professional struggle. He had been frustrated creatively by the formulaic movies and their conventional soundtrack music. It is most fitting that Elvis should record a gospel album at a time when he was at a creative and spiritual low. Gospel had inspired his interest in music, it had always calmed his nerves before a session or a performance, and now, as they say in the South, it called him back home.
In December of that year, the broadcast of his NBC television special, commonly called The ’68 Comeback Special. turned his career around by introducing him to hipper recording material and new directions.
Stuck on You
Inspired and invigorated by the success of his television special, Elvis walked through the door of a tiny American Sound Studios in Memphis in January 1969 to make quality music that would garner him hit records. Elvis had not recorded in his hometown since he left Sun in 1955, but the musical atmosphere at RCA’s Nashville studios had become stale. His friends and associates encouraged him to record at American Sound because Nashville would yield nothing for him at this time.
American Sound Studios, a small studio in a rundown neighborhood, was operated by Chips Moman. With Moman as producer, Elvis worked hard to record his first significant mainstream album in years. In retrospect, From Elvis in Memphis may be his most important album because it brought his recording career back from soundtrack purgatory and set a creative standard for the next few years.
After Elvis felt the excitement of singing for a live audience during the performance segment of the comeback TV special, he was excited to return to the concert stage. In early summer of 1969, Elvis was invited to play at the new International Hotel in Las Vegas.
Elvis had not appeared in a live concert since 1961 when his music had been much simpler. In designing his return to live performing, Elvis chose not to re-create his earlier image or sound. Instead, he planned his act on a broad scale.
For his Las Vegas performances, he was joined onstage by pop/gospel quartet the Imperials, female backup singers the Sweet Inspirations, a rock band, and a 35-piece orchestra. The members of his rock band included the well-known Southern blues guitarist James Burton, drummer Ronnie Tutt, bassist Jerry Scheff, keyboard player Larry Muhoberack, and guitarists/vocalists John Wilkinson and Charlie Hodge. (Hodge had been part of the Memphis Mafia ever since he and Elvis had been in the army together.) Part of the reason for such an extensive entourage was doubtless due to the large 2,000-seat room in which Elvis would perform at the International, but the enormous sound created by Elvis and his musical entourage seemed symbolic of Colonel Parker’s favorite billing for his boy — “the World’s Greatest Entertainer.” The Colonel made sure that Elvis’ return to the stage would be the show-business event of the year. Kirk Kerkorian, then owner of the International Hotel, planned to send his own plane to New York in order to fly in the rock press for opening night.
The list of celebrities who planned to attend Elvis’ opening included Pat Boone, Fats Domino, Wayne Newton, Dick Clark, Ann-Margret, George Hamilton, Angie Dickinson, and Henry Mancini. Elvis personally invited Sam Phillips, the man who had helped him develop his raw talent into a unique musical style.
On July 31, 1969, Elvis performed in front of a sold-out crowd at the International. To the hard-pounding strains of “Baby, I Don’t Care,” Elvis walked onstage. There was no emcee to introduce him. He grabbed the microphone, struck a familiar pose from the past, and snapped his leg back and forth.
The crowd jumped from their chairs and gave him a standing ovation before he sang one note. The audience of 2,000 began to whistle, applaud furiously, and pound on the tables. Some people stood on their chairs. When the ovation began to subside, Elvis launched into “Blue Suede Shoes” with such fury that ten years of his movie music melted away.
Elvis looked devastatingly handsome that night. He was dressed in a modified karate suit made especially for him out of black mohair. He was thinner than he had been in his last few films, and his blue-black hair reached down past his collar. Elvis’ sideburns were the longest they had been since the 1950s.
Never one to take himself too seriously, Elvis joked with the crowd about the old days and the old songs. At one point, he decided to dedicate his next number to the audience and the staff at the International: “This is the only song I could think of that really expresses my feeling toward the audience,” he said in all earnestness, before bursting into “Hound Dog.”
Elvis closed his act with “What’d I Say” from Viva Las Vegas, and again the sold-out crowd gave him a standing ovation. Elvis came back for an encore and sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the song with which he closed every show for the rest of his career. The events of 1969 pointed Elvis toward a new image and a new sound. His dynamic recordings from the first half of that year helped steer him toward this goal, but his smash engagement in Las Vegas that summer constructed the image that would stay with him for the rest of his career.
On Monday, May 1, 1967.married his long time girlfriend Prsiscilla Beaulieu at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, in the small second-floor suite of the Colonel’s friend, owner Milton Prell. The nuptials were presided over by Nevada Supreme Court Justice David Zenoff and took less than ten minutes. In true Colonel Parker style, a press conference was held immediately afterward, followed by a breakfast reception for 100 guests, including many members of the press.
The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in Palm Springs, and after a couple of days they returned to Memphis where, on May 29, they climbed back into their wedding attire and threw a reception at Graceland for all of their relatives, friends, and employees, as well as a few lucky fans. The only absentee was bodyguard Red West, who refused to attend because he hadn’t been invited to the actual wedding ceremony.
Less than two months after the wedding, Elvis began work on Speedway, and on July 12 he made an announcement on the set that Priscilla was pregnant. Yet, it wasn’t long before rumors began to swirl that Elvis was having an affair with his costar Nancy Sinatra.
Then, seven months into the pregnancy, he shocked Priscilla by suggesting that they have a trial separation. This idea was quickly dropped, but after their daughter, Lisa Marie, was born on February 1, 1968, the relationship cooled quickly. For a time, Priscilla tried to reignite the marriage, but after Elvis returned to the concert stage in the summer of 1969, his frequent lengthy absences put further strain on the already troubled relationship.
In early 1972, she and Elvis separated, and their divorce was finalized on October 9, 1973. They remained friends, and even held hands during their divorce proceedings.
Though he may have been a less-than-devoted husband, there’s no doubt that Elvis was a doting father to Lisa Marie. Until the end of his life Elvis adored Lisa Marie, spoiling her and showering her with jewels and gifts when she visited him, and rarely, if ever, disciplining her.
As in many other aspects of his life, Elvis’ love for his daughter ran to excess. Once, he flew her aboard his private jet so she could play in the snow. For her birthday, he rented the amusement park Libertyland for Lisa Marie and her friends. He bought her a golf cart and a pony, which he let her ride through the front door of Graceland.
In her autobiography, Priscilla asserted that she and Elvis retained their mutual affinity and relished their joint role as parents. During one of their last phone conversations, Priscilla mused over the possibility that one day it might be their time once again. “Yeah,” Elvis joked, “when I’m seventy and you’re sixty. We’ll both be so old, we’ll look really silly, racing around in golf carts.”
After his successful engagements at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Elvis took his act on the road and toured for much of the next few years.
Following his success in Las Vegas, Elvis took his act on tour. For Elvis’ first show on the road, Colonel Parker arranged for him to appear in the Houston Astrodome in conjunction with the Texas Livestock Show.The logic behind choosing such a large arena was simple: Elvis, “the World’s Greatest Entertainer,” should appear only in magnificent coliseums or showplaces.
Despite his boost in confidence from the Las Vegas victories, Elvis was overwhelmed by the size of the Astrodome and the thought of having to please 44,500 people. Referring to the Astrodome as an “ocean,” he worried about losing some of his energy and dynamism in such a vast arena.
Again his fears proved unfounded because the Astrodome sold out each night of his engagement, and the local music critics raved about his personal charisma and his exciting act. For the first time since the 1950s, Elvis was swarmed after his show in a frightening example of mob hysteria. His limousine had been parked by the stage door so he could make a rapid getaway, but the fans were able to reach the car quickly. They surrounded the vehicle; some tried to shove flowers and gifts into the doors and windows while others just wanted to touch their idol.
After winning Houston, Elvis continued to tour. He was usually on the road for several weeks out of a month, in addition to playing Las Vegas in February and August. His touring schedule was grueling. By 1971, Elvis was on the road more than most other acts in show business.
Elvis would tour for three weeks at a time, taking no days off and doing two shows on Saturday and Sunday. He would rest for a few weeks and then repeat the cycle. Elvis usually played one-night stands, meaning every performance was scheduled for a different arena. Often Elvis and his entourage would arrive in a city and depart again in less than 24 hours.
Such a demanding schedule took its toll in terms of Elvis’ desire to update or change the material in his act. Eventually, his performances became standardized, even routine. Despite this, Elvis’ concerts were almost always sold out.
During the final Houston show, Elvis experienced problems with his eyes. Upon returning to Memphis, he checked into Baptist Memorial Hospital where he was diagnosed with glaucoma, a serious eye disease that can eventually result in blindness.
Elvis became consumed with an irrational fear that he would be blind by the end of the year. He grew morose, irritable, and reclusive. It took six months for his doctor, his family, and his friends to convince him that his case was treatable. His overreaction to his ailment seemed partly a result of the fatigue and nervousness associated with a demanding schedule.
Touring and performing in Las Vegas became the basis of Elvis’ career during the 1970s. These engagements of 57 or 58 shows generally lasted about one month, a schedule equally as exhausting as being on the road. Plus, the pressure of performing live was as draining as the physical nature of the performances, resulting in sleeplessness, bouts of depression, and exaggerated emotional responses.
Little of this showed in his performances during the early 1970s, and those who saw him on stage marveled at the excitement he generated in his audiences. Indicative of his stage show during this time period is the Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii concert, which was not only televised but also recorded and released on an album titled Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite. The album hit the top spot on Billboard’s album chart, remaining on the charts for 52 weeks. It was Elvis’ last album to reach No. 1.
Elvis sang a variety of songs throughout the concert special, including his current hits, “Burning Love” and “Suspicious Minds,” and past hits “Hound Dog,” “Love Me,” and “A Big Hunk o’ Love.” He also sang “My Way,” “Steamroller Blues,” and other pop and rock tunes, as well as the moving country classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” During the course of the evening, he doffed his magnificent cape, and later, while singing “An American Trilogy,” Elvis tossed his studded belt into the audience.
“A live concert to me is exciting because of all the electricity that is generated in the crowd and on stage. It’s my favorite part of the business — live concerts,” Elvis proclaimed at a press conference prior to Aloha From Hawaii.
For the finale, Elvis sang his standard closing number, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” that built up to the large-scale sound typical of his style of that era. By the time this number began, Elvis had resumed wearing his cape, which typically signaled the end of the show for his band and the audience.
Usually, he concluded the number by dropping to one knee in the spotlight, grabbing the ends of his cape in his hands, and spreading the garment out behind him – a grandiose gesture befitting the World’s Greatest Entertainer. On this night, he added an extra touch by throwing the gem-laden cape into the crowd, where it was caught by a lucky fan. As the orchestra reprised “See See Rider,” Elvis left the stage. As usual, he did not return for an encore. It was simply too hard to top the effect of such sublime imagery.
Aloha From Hawaii featured many of the elements, such as the jumpsuit and energetic performance style that were hallmarks of Elvis’ concerts in the 1970s.
The nonstop touring and Las Vegas engagements played a part in Elvis Presley’s physical and spiritual decline as did his dependency on a variety of prescription drugs.
His oppressive performance schedule and his reliance on prescription drugs were connected, at least in Elvis’ mind. He claimed he needed drugs to maintain his energy onstage and then drugs to sleep after his performances, but some of the prescription drugs he got his hands on were not designed for those purposes. Some time during the 1970s, Elvis’ overuse of drugs evolved into a frightening level of abuse.
In addition, Elvis’ record output during the 1970s was extensive, making his recording schedule as grueling as his concert tours. Each year, RCA typically released three to four studio albums, one to two live albums, and various singles.
A misconception exists that Elvis was lazy during the 1970s, that he secluded himself inside Graceland for extensive periods and did very little. Yet, based on his touring and recording schedules, this is clearly untrue. The problem was not inactivity; it was a grinding schedule of repeated routines, the monotony of the road, and a heart heavy from personal disappointments.
Personally downhearted and professionally unchallenged, Elvis grew bored and disaffected. By 1976, no one could get Elvis Presley into the recording studio despite his contractual obligations. Any enthusiasm he had previously mustered for recording was lost by the mid-1970s. Whether it was the end result of a downward spiral or because he thought the drugs had affected the range of his voice is unknown.
To appease Elvis by making the recording process easier, RCA sent their recording truck to Graceland in February 1976 so the reluctant singer could work in the convenience of his own home. Technicians set up a makeshift studio in the downstairs back room known as the Jungle Room because of its decor. They made some technical compromises but, from this session and another session in October 1976, they produced two albums: From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and Moody Blue. The October session, resulting in only four completed tracks, was Elvis’ last effort at studio recording. Moody Blue reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Top LP chart and remained on the charts for 31 weeks. It was certified platinum on September 1, 1977.
If there was one common denominator to his song selection during the last couple years of his life, it was his affinity for brooding ballads or other songs of regret and loss. Several songs of this type had been recorded around the time of his separation and divorce from Priscilla, but this preference resurfaced as his personal and professional life continued to deteriorate.
If speculation exists as to whether Elvis realized the extent of his decline, the proof of self-awareness lies not in his words or deeds but in the song selections for his final studio albums. “They were about lost love affairs, bitter endings, and hopeless relationships. These tracks are not great musical innovations, nor did they change the course of music history, but their autobiographical relevance to Elvis’ circumstances make their inclusion on this album, released one month before his death , poignant and heartrending.
The reasons, sources, and explanations for Elvis Presley’s problems, maladies, and behavior have been discussed, dismissed, interpreted, and exaggerated for decades, often by those who have their own agendas and personal motivations. While separating the reasonable explanations from the angry accusations can be difficult, a common thread among them is Elvis’ isolation from the outside world, which resulted in an unconventional lifestyle.
When Elvis began his career, he allowed his fans unprecedented access to himself and his family. Fans tracked him down and visited him in the comfort of his home. As time passed, the fans became too much for him to manage. He was mobbed, pushed down, and sometimes stripped bare by crowds of adoring admirers.
Elvis couldn’t sight see, eat in a restaurant, or enjoy himself in public without his fans besieging him. By the time Elvis was discharged from the army, he had begun living as a recluse. He secluded himself at Graceland or his home in California. This isolation, coupled with his boredom when he was between projects, eventually led Elvis to indulge in destructive habits.
These bad habits accelerated during the 1970s after he returned to performing in concert and a hectic life on the road. His worst problem was obviously his dependence on prescription drugs, which altered his behavior and personality. According to members of the Memphis Mafia, a group of his bodyguards and friends, Elvis began using amphetamines and diet pills in the 1960s; the drugs were intended to help Elvis keep his weight down.
To counteract the amphetamines, Elvis and his his “Memphis Mafia”, who always indulged in whatever Elvis was doing, began to take sleeping pills. By the early 1970s, when he was touring on a debilitating schedule of one-nighters, Elvis was taking medication for pain and discomfort caused by various afflictions and conditions. These drugs eventually left him in a state of mental limbo. Memphis Mafia members disagree about how many drugs Elvis took, but the fact remains that he took more drugs than his body could withstand.
Elvis Presley died at Graceland on August 16, 1977. He was 42 years old. Girlfriend Ginger Alden found him slumped over in the bathroom. Paramedics were called, but they failed to revive Elvis, and he was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital where further attempts to resuscitate him failed. He was pronounced dead by his physician, Dr. George Nichopolous, who listed the official cause of death as erratic heartbeat, or cardiac arrhythmia.
Almost immediately, rumors that Elvis was dead began to sift into the Memphis newspaper, radio, and television newsrooms, but reporters took a wait-and-see attitude. They had heard these rumors before.
Over the years, many crank calls had come in declaring that Elvis had been killed in a car accident or a plane crash or that he’d been shot by the jealous boyfriend of a woman who was hopelessly infatuated with him. Once, someone reported that he had drowned in a submarine.
Elvis Presley was a hometown boy and a constant source of news, some of which was manufactured for or by the Memphis press. Newspaper editors and newsroom managers were cautious about sending out their reporters if the rumor that Elvis was dead was just another hoax. But when the staff of the Memphis Press-Scimitar learned from a trusted source that Elvis actually was dead, the newsroom became unusually silent. Dan Sears of radio station WMPS in Memphis made the first official announcement, and WHBQ-TV was the first television station to interrupt its programming with the terrible news.
Vintage television coverage from 1977, as WMC-TV, Action News 5, announces to viewers in Memphis that Elvis Presley has died
As the news of Elvis’ death spread across the country, radio stations immediately began to play his records. Some stations quickly organized tributes to Elvis while others simply played his music at the request of listeners, many of whom were in a state of shock over his sudden death. Some people called their favorite radio stations just because they wanted to tell someone their stories about the first time they’d heard Elvis sing or to talk about how much his talent and his music meant to them.
In the same way that many people remember exactly where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been killed, most of Elvis’ fans remember where they were the day Elvis died. Mick Fleetwood, of rock group Fleetwood Mac, recalls, “The news came over like a ton of bricks. I was driving back from the mountains, and I had the radio on. They were playing an Elvis medley, and I thought, ‘Great.’ And then they came back with the news.”
The manner in which the major television networks handled the news of Elvis’ death illustrated his enormous popularity and the tremendous impact he had on America, something few realized until he was gone. Data from the television-ratings service Arbitron revealed that on the day Elvis died, there was a huge increase in the number of televisions tuned to evening news programs.
The staffs of television newsrooms considered Elvis’ death a late-breaking story. There was not enough time for TV reporters who had been sent to Memphis to file stories for the evening news. Executives had to decide quickly what film footage they could use from their files and where to place the story in relation to the other news of the day.
Even though Elvis never performed in Europe, countries from all over the world sent reporters to Memphis. The press coverage in foreign newspapers and on European television was almost as extensive as the reporting in the United States. Everywhere in the world, people lamented the loss of an irreplaceable entertainer.
Within one hour after Elvis’ death, fans began to gather in front of Graceland. By the next day, when the gates were opened for mourners to view Elvis’ body, the crowd was estimated at 20,000. When the gates closed at 6:30 p.m., about 80,000 fans had passed by Elvis’ coffin. Many had come from different parts of the country; many from different parts of the world.
Eventually, so many mourners arrived that it was impossible for them all to be admitted to Graceland, even with extended calling hours. Law enforcement officials were afraid there might be problems with crowd control, but there were none. However, an unrelated tragic incident occurred: A drunk driver’s car careened into three teenagers in the crowd, killing two of them.
As the group of mourners grew around the gates of Graceland, a carnival atmosphere developed; people hawking T-shirts and other souvenirs began to work the crowd. The people who were unable to get into Graceland to pay their last respects to Elvis consoled each other by exchanging anecdotes about their idol. When reporters asked them why they were there, people inevitably gave the same reply: They didn’t really know, but they felt they wanted to be where he was this one last time. The hot Memphis weather and the close crush of the crowd caused many people to pass out. A medic was stationed nearby to assist anyone who fainted, but no one left because of the heat.
Numerous celebrities attended Elvis’ funeral, including Caroline Kennedy, country music guitarist Chet Atkins, performers Ann-Margret and George Hamilton, and television evangelist Rex Humbard, who was one of the speakers during the service. Comedian Jackie Kahane, who had opened many of Elvis’ concert performances, delivered his eulogy, and a local minister also spoke.
Gospel performers sang, including Jake Hess, J.D. Sumner, James Blackwood, and their vocal groups, as well as singer Kathy Westmoreland. The casket was carried to Forest Hill Cemetery in a long motor cortege of all-white automobiles.
Later, when someone threatened to steal Elvis’ remains, his casket was moved to the Meditation Garden behind Graceland. Gladys’s body was also moved to the Meditation Garden in 1977; Vernon Presley died and was buried there in 1979; and Minnie Mae Presley was laid to rest beside the rest of her family in 1980.
August 18, 1977 Beautiful video of Elvis funeral service at Graceland which was followed by a ceremony and burial. A motorcade of 14 white Cadillac’s with Elvis hearse driven by Trent Webb lined the streets from Graceland to Forrest Hill Cemetery
This is sad footage of Elvis Presley’s funeral and the day following his death on August 16th, 1977
Although Elvis Presley died in 1977, his name, music, and image have sustained the public’s attention. The period after his death has been marked by controversy, acclaim, ridicule, and commercialism: Officials debated the role of drugs in his death, music organizations honored his accomplishments, the media ridiculed the fans, and profiteers made money from it all. From the pits of tabloid headlines to the peaks of awards and honors, Elvis continued to make news. Death was not the end of Elvis Presley’s career, it simply marked another phase.