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The Elvis Presley Story


Elvis Presley, The King

Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 and passed away on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42. He was a singer, musician and actor. History also shows that his attitude and performances made him a pivotal figure in the evolution of American music.

Elvis was mostly of Scottish ancestry. An Andrew Presley II is known to have emigrated from Lomnay, Aberdeenshire, Scotland to North Carolina, USA in 1745. His father, Vernon (b. April 10, 1916, Fulton, Mississippi, d. June 26, 1979) was an impoverished truck driver. Gladys Love Smith (b. April 25, 1912, Pontotoc County, Mississippi, d. August 14, 1958) was a sewing machine operator - not much is known about her early life. The two married on June 17, 1933.

Elvis Presley was born in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. He was the second of identical twins - his brother was stillborn. He grew up as an only child and was very close to his mother. The family didn't have much money.

At the age of 10, Elvis made his first public performance in a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. He stood on a chair to reach the microphone and sang Red Foley's "Old Shep" dressed as a cowboy. He came in second.

Elvis got his first guitar-a $7.90 birthday present-in 1946. Three years later, the Presleys moved to Lauderdale Courts public housing development in one of Memphis, Tennessee's poorer sections. He practiced guitar playing in the basement laundry room and also played in a five-piece band with other tenants. Wherever Elvis went he'd have his guitar slung across his back.

Through the church, he was exposed to a lot of gospel music. Rolling Stone magazine has written that: "Gospel pervaded Elvis' character and was a defining and enduring influence all of his days." Listening to local radio, he became interested in a singer called Mississippi Slim on Tupelo's WELO. Presley performed occasionally on Slim's Saturday morning show, Singin' and Pickin' Hillbilly. "He was crazy about music... That's all he talked about," recalled his sixth grade friend, James Ausborn, Slim's younger brother. "I think gospel sort of [inspired] him to be in music, but then my brother helped carry it on." Before he was a teenager, music was already Presley's "consuming passion."

The family's move to Memphis expanded Presley's musical horizons. He became a regular at record stores that had jukeboxes and listening booths - playing old records and new releases for hours. He began to attend services at the East Trigg Baptist Church. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra concerts at Overton Park were another Presley favorite, along with the Metropolitan Opera. His small record collection included Mario Lanza and Dean Martin. Presley later said: "I just loved music. Music period."

Elvis spent much time around music, and became known to musicians like B.B. King on Memphis' Beale St. before his career started. Presley began his career singing rockabilly music, an uptempo combination of country and rhythm and blues. His versions of existing songs made him popular and controversial as did his uninhibited stage performances. His 1950's recordings are seen as some of the earliest examples of rock and roll, with tracks like "Jailhouse Rock", "Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do" and "Hound Dog" later embodying the style.

Elvis' music career was interrupted when on December 20, 1957, he received his army draft notice. Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures had already spent $350,000 on Presley's latest film King Creole and they feared the consequences of suspending or canceling the project. The Memphis Draft Board granted Wallis and Parker a deferment so the movie could be finished. On March 24, 1958, he was finally inducted and completed basic training at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, before being posted to Friedberg, Germany.

Presley joined the 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor. He had chosen not to receive any special treatment and was respected for not joining 'Special Services', which would have allowed him to avoid certain duties and maintain his public profile. His service still received massive media coverage.

Presley returned to the U.S. on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant (E-5) on March 5. Recording sessions in March and April yielded some of his best-selling songs - including "It's Now or Never". Although some tracks were uptempo, none could be described as "rock and roll". Most found their way on to an album - Elvis is Back!

Presley is said to have admired Marlon Brando, James Dean and Tony Curtis; he returned from the army eager to continue acting. Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) are regarded as the best of his pre-army films. His manager, with an eye on long-term earnings, negotiated a multi-picture seven-year contract with Hal Wallis. The contract gave Presley a fee for each role and a percentage of any profits. As these films were released, Elvis' transition from Rock and Roll rebel to family entertainer became apparent.

Elvis met Priscilla Beaulieu during his service stint in Germany. They married on May 1, 1967 in Las Vegas. A daughter, Lisa Marie, was born exactly nine months later.

The sixties saw a turn to new types of music. Popular San Francisco artists like The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead had little to do with Elvis' current pop sound and numerous soundtrack albums. Elvis' career was in freefall. He apparently became deeply dissatisfied with the direction his career had taken, especially a movie schedule that all but eliminated creative recording and live concerts. This led to an NBC TV show, later dubbed the '68 Comeback Special, that aired December 3, 1968. Although the show featured production numbers not dissimilar to those in his movies, it also featured live sessions that saw him return to his more uninhibited rock and roll roots. The intimate live pieces rekindled the fans' love and attention.

Buoyed by the experience, Presley recorded the albums From Elvis in Memphis and From Memphis To Vegas, From Vegas To Memphis, the former considered to be one of the best of his career.

Elvis' appearances in Las Vegas broke records in 1969. He later toured across the U.S. and had a stream of sold-out shows, performing 1,145 concerts between 1969 to 1977, with many setting venue attendance records. He also had hits in the singles charts of many countries. However, Presley's song repertoire continued to become distanced from current trends within pop and rock music.

In 1973, Presley had two January shows in Hawaii. The second was broadcast live around the world. The "Aloha from Hawaii" concert was the first to be broadcast via satellite and reached at least a billion viewers. The show's album went to number one and spent a year in the charts.

Off stage, Presley and his wife Priscilla had continuing marriage difficulties and they separated on February 23, 1972, agreeing to share custody of their daughter. Divorcing in 1973, Presley became increasingly isolated and overweight, with prescription drugs taking their toll on his health, mood and his stage act. Despite this, Presley was still capable of critically acclaimed performances. His live version of "How Great Thou Art" won him a Grammy award in 1974. He continued to play to sell-out crowds and release hit records. A 1975 tour ended with a concert in Michigan, attended by over 62,000 fans.

Presley's final performance was in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena, (June 26). August 17, 1977, was to be the start of another tour. However, at "Graceland" the day before, Presley was found on the floor of his bathroom by fiancée, Ginger Alden. According to the medical investigator, Presley had "stumbled or crawled several feet before he died." He was officially pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. at the Baptist Memorial Hospital.

To date, Elvis Aaron Presley is the only performer to have been inducted into three of the music 'Halls of Fame'. He made thirty-three movies, the majority during the 1960s, but he made a critically-acclaimed return to live music in 1968, followed by performances in Las Vegas and across the U.S. Throughout his career, he set records for concert attendance, television ratings, and records sales. He is one of the best-selling and most influential artists in the history of popular music.


Published in sections: The Fifties ::

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