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Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley

Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 - August 16, 1977) was an American singer and actor. Dubbed the "King of Rock and Roll", he is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences acro...

Elvis Aaron Presley[a] (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) was an American singer and actor. Dubbed the "King of Rock and Roll", he is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines during a transformative era in race relations, led him to both great success and initial controversy.

Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family when he was 13 years old. His music career began there in 1954, recording at Sun Records with producer Sam Phillips, who wanted to bring the sound of African-American music to a wider audience. Presley, on rhythm acoustic guitar, and accompanied by lead guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, was a pioneer of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. In 1955, drummer D. J. Fontana joined to complete the lineup of Presley's classic quartet and RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who would manage him for more than two decades. Presley's first RCA Victor single, "Heartbreak Hotel", was released in January 1956 and became a number-one hit in the United States. Within a year, RCA would sell ten million Presley singles. With a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records, Presley became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll.

In November 1956, Presley made his film debut in Love Me Tender. Drafted into military service in 1958, Presley relaunched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work. He held few concerts, however, and guided by Parker, proceeded to devote much of the 1960s to making Hollywood films and soundtrack albums, most of them critically derided. In 1968, following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed television comeback special Elvis, which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Presley gave the first concert by a solo artist to be broadcast around the world, Aloha from Hawaii. Years of prescription drug abuse and unhealthy eating habits severely compromised his health, and he died suddenly in 1977 at his Graceland estate at the age of 42.

Having sold over 500 million records worldwide, Presley is recognized as the best-selling solo music artist of all time by Guinness World Records. He was commercially successful in many genres, including pop, country, R&B, adult contemporary, and gospel. Presley won three Grammy Awards, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36, and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame. He holds several records, including the most RIAA certified gold and platinum albums, the most albums charted on the Billboard 200, the most number-one albums by a solo artist on the UK Albums Chart, and the most number-one singles by any act on the UK Singles Chart. In 2018, Presley was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Donald Trump.

Life and career

Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Vernon Elvis (April 10, 1916 – June 26, 1979) and Gladys Love (née Smith; April 25, 1912 – August 14, 1958) Presley in a two-room shotgun house that his father built for the occasion. Elvis's identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, was delivered 35 minutes before him, stillborn. Presley became close to both parents and formed an especially close bond with his mother. The family attended an Assembly of God church, where he found his initial musical inspiration.

Presley's father, Vernon, was of German, Scottish and English origins. Presley's mother, Gladys, was of Scots-Irish with some French Norman ancestry. His mother, Gladys, and the rest of the family, apparently believed that her great-great-grandmother, Morning Dove White, was Cherokee; this was confirmed by Elvis's granddaughter Riley Keough in 2017. Elaine Dundy, in her biography, supports the belief. Gladys was regarded by relatives and friends as the dominant member of the small family.

Vernon moved from one odd job to the next, showing little ambition. The family often relied on help from neighbors and government food assistance. In 1938, they lost their home after Vernon was found guilty of altering a check written by his landowner and sometime-employer. He was jailed for eight months, while Gladys and Elvis moved in with relatives.

In September 1941, Presley entered first grade at East Tupelo Consolidated, where his teachers regarded him as "average". He was encouraged to enter a singing contest after impressing his schoolteacher with a rendition of Red Foley's country song "Old Shep" during morning prayers. The contest, held at the Mississippi–Alabama Fair and Dairy Show on October 3, 1945, was his first public performance. The ten-year-old Presley was dressed as a cowboy; he stood on a chair to reach the microphone and sang "Old Shep". He recalled placing fifth. A few months later, Presley received his first guitar for his birthday; he had hoped for something else—by different accounts, either a bicycle or a rifle. Over the following year, he received basic guitar lessons from two of his uncles and the new pastor at the family's church. Presley recalled, "I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it."

In September 1946, Presley entered a new school, Milam, for sixth grade; he was regarded as a loner. The following year, he began bringing his guitar to school on a daily basis. He played and sang during lunchtime, and was often teased as a "trashy" kid who played hillbilly music. By then, the family was living in a largely black neighborhood. Presley was a devotee of Mississippi Slim's show on the Tupelo radio station WELO. He was described as "crazy about music" by Slim's younger brother, who was one of Presley's classmates and often took him into the station. Slim supplemented Presley's guitar instruction by demonstrating chord techniques. When his protégé was twelve years old, Slim scheduled him for two on-air performances. Presley was overcome by stage fright the first time, but succeeded in performing the following week.

Teenage life in Memphis

In November 1948, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. After residing for nearly a year in rooming houses, they were granted a two-bedroom apartment in the public housing complex known as the Lauderdale Courts. Enrolled at L. C. Humes High School, Presley received only a C in music in eighth grade. When his music teacher told him that he had no aptitude for singing, he brought in his guitar the next day and sang a recent hit, "Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me", to prove otherwise. A classmate later recalled that the teacher "agreed that Elvis was right when he said that she didn't appreciate his kind of singing". He was usually too shy to perform openly, and was occasionally bullied by classmates who viewed him as a "mama's boy". In 1950, he began practicing guitar regularly under the tutelage of Lee Denson, a neighbor two and a half years his senior. They and three other boys—including two future rockabilly pioneers, brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette—formed a loose musical collective that played frequently around the Courts. That September, he began working as an usher at Loew's State Theater. Other jobs followed: Precision Tool, Loew's again, and MARL Metal Products. Presley also helped Jewish neighbors, the Fruchters, by being their shabbos goy.

During his junior year, Presley began to stand out more among his classmates, largely because of his appearance: he grew his sideburns and styled his hair with rose oil and Vaseline. In his free time, he would head down to Beale Street, the heart of Memphis's thriving blues scene, and gaze longingly at the wild, flashy clothes in the windows of Lansky Brothers. By his senior year, he was wearing those clothes. Overcoming his reticence about performing outside the Lauderdale Courts, he competed in Humes' Annual "Minstrel" show in April 1953. Singing and playing guitar, he opened with "Till I Waltz Again with You", a recent hit for Teresa Brewer. Presley recalled that the performance did much for his reputation: "I wasn't popular in school ... I failed music—only thing I ever failed. And then they entered me in this talent show ... when I came onstage I heard people kind of rumbling and whispering and so forth, 'cause nobody knew I even sang. It was amazing how popular I became in school after that."

Presley, who received no formal music training and could not read music, studied and played by ear. He also frequented record stores that provided jukeboxes and listening booths to customers. He knew all of Hank Snow's songs, and he loved records by other country singers such as Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Ted Daffan, Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmie Davis, and Bob Wills. The Southern gospel singer Jake Hess, one of his favorite performers, was a significant influence on his ballad-singing style. He was a regular audience member at the monthly All-Night Singings downtown, where many of the white gospel groups that performed reflected the influence of African-American spiritual music. He adored the music of black gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Like some of his peers, he may have attended blues venues—of necessity, in the segregated South, only on nights designated for exclusively white audiences. He certainly listened to the regional radio stations, such as WDIA-AM, that played "race records": spirituals, blues, and the modern, backbeat-heavy sound of rhythm and blues. Many of his future recordings were inspired by local African-American musicians such as Arthur Crudup and Rufus Thomas. B.B. King recalled that he had known Presley before he was popular when they both used to frequent Beale Street. By the time he graduated from high school in June 1953, Presley had already singled out music as his future.

1953–1956: First recordings

Sam Phillips and Sun Records

In August 1953, Presley checked into the offices of Sun Records. He aimed to pay for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate disc: "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin". He later claimed that he intended the record as a birthday gift for his mother, or that he was merely interested in what he "sounded like", although there was a much cheaper, amateur record-making service at a nearby general store. Biographer Peter Guralnick argued that he chose Sun in the hope of being discovered. Asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Presley responded, "I sing all kinds." When she pressed him on who he sounded like, he repeatedly answered, "I don't sound like nobody." After he recorded, Sun boss Sam Phillips asked Keisker to note down the young man's name, which she did along with her own commentary: "Good ballad singer. Hold."

In January 1954, Presley cut a second acetate at Sun Records—"I'll Never Stand in Your Way" and "It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You"—but again nothing came of it. Not long after, he failed an audition for a local vocal quartet, the Songfellows. He explained to his father, "They told me I couldn't sing." Songfellow Jim Hamill later claimed that he was turned down because he did not demonstrate an ear for harmony at the time. In April, Presley began working for the Crown Electric company as a truck driver. His friend Ronnie Smith, after playing a few local gigs with him, suggested he contact Eddie Bond, leader of Smith's professional band, which had an opening for a vocalist. Bond rejected him after a tryout, advising Presley to stick to truck driving "because you're never going to make it as a singer".

Phillips, meanwhile, was always on the lookout for someone who could bring to a broader audience the sound of the black musicians on whom Sun focused. As Keisker reported, "Over and over I remember Sam saying, 'If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.'" In June, he acquired a demo recording by Jimmy Sweeney of a ballad, "Without You", that he thought might suit the teenage singer. Presley came by the studio but was unable to do it justice. Despite this, Phillips asked Presley to sing as many numbers as he knew. He was sufficiently affected by what he heard to invite two local musicians, guitarist Winfield "Scotty" Moore and upright bass player Bill Black, to work something up with Presley for a recording session.

The session held the evening of July 5, proved entirely unfruitful until late in the night. As they were about to abort and go home, Presley took his guitar and launched into a 1946 blues number, Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right". Moore recalled, "All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open ... he stuck his head out and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We don't know.' 'Well, back up,' he said, 'try to find a place to start, and do it again.'" Phillips quickly began taping; this was the sound he had been looking for. Three days later, popular Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played "That's All Right" on his Red, Hot, and Blue show. Listeners began phoning in, eager to find out who the singer was. The interest was such that Phillips played the record repeatedly during the remaining two hours of his show. Interviewing Presley on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed that he was black. During the next few days, the trio recorded a bluegrass song, Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky", again in a distinctive style and employing a jury-rigged echo effect that Sam Phillips dubbed "slapback". A single was pressed with "That's All Right" on the A-side and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" on the reverse.

Early live performances and RCA Victor contract

The trio played publicly for the first time on July 17 at the Bon Air club—Presley still sporting his child-size guitar. At the end of the month, they appeared at the Overton Park Shell, with Slim Whitman headlining. A combination of his strong response to rhythm and nervousness at playing before a large crowd led Presley to shake his legs as he performed: his wide-cut pants emphasized his movements, causing young women in the audience to start screaming. Moore recalled, "During the instrumental parts, he would back off from the mike and be playing and shaking, and the crowd would just go wild". Black, a natural showman, whooped and rode his bass, hitting double licks that Presley would later remember as "really a wild sound, like a jungle drum or something". Soon after, Moore and Black left their old band, the Starlite Wranglers, to play with Presley regularly, and DJ/promoter Bob Neal became the trio's manager. From August through October, they played frequently at the Eagle's Nest club and returned to Sun Studio for more recording sessions, and Presley quickly grew more confident on stage. According to Moore, "His movement was a natural thing, but he was also very conscious of what got a reaction. He'd do something one time and then he would expand on it real quick." Presley made what would be his only appearance on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry stage on October 2; after a polite audience response, Opry manager Jim Denny told Phillips that his singer was "not bad" but did not suit the program.

Louisiana Hayride, radio commercial, and first television performances

In November 1954, Presley performed on Louisiana Hayride—the Opry's chief, and more adventurous, rival. The Shreveport-based show was broadcast to 198 radio stations in 28 states. Presley had another attack of nerves during the first set, which drew a muted reaction. A more composed and energetic second set inspired an enthusiastic response. House drummer D. J. Fontana brought a new element, complementing Presley's movements with accented beats that he had mastered playing in strip clubs. Soon after the show, the Hayride engaged Presley for a year's worth of Saturday-night appearances. Trading in his old guitar for $8 (and seeing it promptly dispatched to the garbage), he purchased a Martin instrument for $175 (equivalent to $1,700 in 2020), and his trio began playing in new locales, including Houston, Texas and Texarkana, Arkansas.

Many fledgling performers, like Minnie Pearl, Johnny Horton, and Johnny Cash, sang the praises of Louisiana Hayride sponsor, Southern Maid Donuts, including Elvis Presley, who developed a lifelong love of doughnuts. Presley made his singular product endorsement commercial for the doughnut company, which was never released, recording a radio jingle, "in exchange for a box of hot glazed doughnuts."

Elvis made his first television appearance on the KSLA-TV television broadcast of Louisiana Hayride. Soon after, he failed an audition for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts on the CBS television network. By early 1955, Presley's regular Hayride appearances, constant touring, and well-received record releases had made him a regional star, from Tennessee to West Texas. In January, Neal signed a formal management contract with Presley and brought him to the attention of Colonel Tom Parker, whom he considered the best promoter in the music business. Parker—who claimed to be from West Virginia (he was actually Dutch)—had acquired an honorary colonel's commission from country singer turned Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis. Having successfully managed top country star Eddy Arnold, Parker was working with the new number-one country singer, Hank Snow. Parker booked Presley on Snow's February tour. When the tour reached Odessa, Texas, a 19-year-old Roy Orbison saw Presley for the first time: "His energy was incredible, his instinct was just amazing. ... I just didn't know what to make of it. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it." By August, Sun had released ten sides credited to "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill"; on the latest recordings, the trio were joined by a drummer. Some of the songs, like "That's All Right", were in what one Memphis journalist described as the "R&B idiom of negro field jazz"; others, like "Blue Moon of Kentucky", were "more in the country field", "but there was a curious blending of the two different musics in both". This blend of styles made it difficult for Presley's music to find radio airplay. According to Neal, many country-music disc jockeys would not play it because he sounded too much like a black artist and none of the rhythm-and-blues stations would touch him because "he sounded too much like a hillbilly." The blend came to be known as rockabilly. At the time, Presley was variously billed as "The King of Western Bop", "The Hillbilly Cat", and "The Memphis Flash".

Presley renewed Neal's management contract in August 1955, simultaneously appointing Parker as his special adviser. The group maintained an extensive touring schedule throughout the second half of the year. Neal recalled, "It was almost frightening, the reaction that came to Elvis from the teenaged boys. So many of them, through some sort of jealousy, would practically hate him. There were occasions in some towns in Texas when we'd have to be sure to have a police guard because somebody'd always try to take a crack at him. They'd get a gang and try to waylay him or something."[80] The trio became a quartet when Hayride drummer Fontana joined as a full member. In mid-October, they played a few shows in support of Bill Haley, whose "Rock Around the Clock" track had been a number-one hit the previous year. Haley observed that Presley had a natural feel for rhythm, and advised him to sing fewer ballads.

At the Country Disc Jockey Convention in early November, Presley was voted the year's most promising male artist. Several record companies had by now shown interest in signing him. After three major labels made offers of up to $25,000, Parker and Phillips struck a deal with RCA Victor on November 21 to acquire Presley's Sun contract for an unprecedented $40,000. Presley, at 20, was still a minor, so his father signed the contract. Parker arranged with the owners of Hill & Range Publishing, Jean and Julian Aberbach, to create two entities, Elvis Presley Music and Gladys Music, to handle all the new material recorded by Presley. Songwriters were obliged to forgo one-third of their customary royalties in exchange for having him perform their compositions. By December, RCA Victor had begun to heavily promote its new singer, and before month's end had reissued many of his Sun recordings.

Timeline

1977
Elvis Presley dies

Elvis died at his home, Graceland. His legacy would live on for decades to come.

1971
Elvis receives the Lifetime Achievement Award

Elvis' Lifetime Achievement Award came from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

1970
Elvis meets the president

Elvis met President Richard Nixon at the White House.

1967
Elvis gets married

Elvis married a woman named Priscilla. They had met while Elvis was in the army in Germany.

1960
Elvis' army duty is over

Elvis was honorably discharged from the army. He returned home and made a record-breaking album called GI Blues.

1958
Elvis becomes an army man

Elvis was inducted into the United States Army draft. He showed up for duty with pride.

1957
Graceland is purchased

Elvis bought his now-famous home in Memphis, TN. He named it Graceland.

November 1956
Elvis makes a movie

Elvis starred in a film with Paramount Pictures called Love Me Tender.

1956
Elvis makes a television appearance

Elvis' TV debut is on a show called "Stage Show".

1956
Elvis makes his first album

Elvis headed to Nashville where he recorded his first record. It included one of his hits, Heartbreak Hotel.

Patents

Further Resources

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

ELVIS - INTERVIEW MADISON SQUARE GARDEN DE NEW-YORK EN JUIN 1972 - EN FRANCAIS

Web

August 31, 2013

ELVIS INTERVIEW GRACELAND - 1960

Web

September 13, 2013

Elvis Presley - Can't Help Falling In Love ("Blue Hawaii" 1961)

Web

July 30, 2019

Elvis Presley interview April 19th 1960 colourised..

Web

August 15, 2021

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