Elvis Presley Biography : A Comprehensive history of Elvis Presley's dynamic life
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life, yet how detailed do you want it? Do you want to know about the genius moment when Elvis Presley ... all of a sudden ... just got started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool - and with this one song started his phenomenal career and arguably the birth of Rock 'n' Roll, certainly modern music as we know it today? Or are you interested in his childhood? Or how about going all the way back in history to the year, 1669, where Elvis' ancestors can be traced migrating from Germany via England in 1710 and arriving in New York? And we do have the family history line running all the way from 1669 to the birth and life of Elvis Presley, noting even that if it wasn't for his great grandmother giving her children her maiden name, the name Presley would not be known today.
In the links below we have the important separate articles focusing on each of these individual topics and more and then following that, as much of an overview as one could reasonably be expected to want to read as a basic summery of the life of the one and only King Of Rock 'N' Roll ... Elvis Presley ...
Elvis Presley Biography
Elvis Aaron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn, leaving Elvis to grow up as an only child.
Elvis and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948, and Elvis graduated from Humes High School there in 1953. Elvis' musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager. In 1954, Elvis began his singing career with the legendary Sun Records label in Memphis. In late 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor. By 1956, he was an international sensation. With a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time, he ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture. Elvis Presley's dynamic life story from his humble beginnings through his rise to stardom is a fascinating journey which has earned Elvis his still undefeated title of the 'King of Rock 'N Roll'.
Tupelo Childhood Classmates @ Lawhon Junior High School in 1943.
Elvis Presley; Evon Farrar, now Mrs. Bobby Richey; James Farrar, Fourth District Justice of the Peace; (middle row)
Guy Harris, captain with the Tupelo Police. Photo courtesy of Guy Harris and Wanda Powell Heagy.
His songs are unforgettable - they have stood the test of time, especially his singles of the 1950s, a decade in which he had a song at No. 1. for a full 6 months of that year. An even more incredible statistic is Elvis only started at RCA in January of 1956, there is only two years until he is drafted in to the U.S. Army, he made 4 movies during this time. A testament to his incredible break-through is the fact that he managed to sell twice as many records in the entire decade of the 1950s with only these two years of recording than any other performer. [There were also the SUN years 1954-1955 but these were not years of huge record sales compared to when he became a national sensation in 1956.]
They were also unpredictable. Who could know what the next one would be like? Elvis liberally altered his style to suit each song. There were the early country-boy rockabillies sung in a breathless high pitch, of which My Baby Left Me, Milkcow Blues Boogie and Money Honey are examples. His more mature, aggressive rock 'n' roll stance came out with songs such as Blue Suede Shoes, One Night and A Big Hunk O' Love. his approach to ballads ranged from the ethereal vocal effects on the guitar-tapping version of Blue Moon to smooth crooning on As Long As I Have You, Can't Help Falling In Love and many other slow numbers and movie songs.
January 8, 1935
Elvis Aaron Presley, in the humblest of circumstances, was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn, leaving Elvis to grow up as an only child. He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1948, and Elvis graduated from Humes High School there in 1953.
His First Guitar
On Elvis' eleventh birthday, his parents bought him a guitar. With the help of his uncle Johnny (Smith) and pastor Frank Smith of the Assembly of God Church, which the Presleys were now attending, he learned some basic cords. However while Elvis did play rhythm in the 1950's he never progressed further as a guitar player, content to let the guitar become more of a prop as time went on. When you have a voice as good as Elvis Presley's, you are not motivated to learn more, instead he concentrated on improving his voice to get it where he wanted, to be able to sing the bigger songs, like Are You Lonesome Tonight?, It's Now Or Never, both from 1960 and songs such as My Way in the 1970s just to name but a few.
Getting to SUN
Soon after Elvis graduated in June of 1953, he began to explore the possibilities of singing professionally. In July, he went to 706 Union Avenue, a facility owned and run by Sam Phillips, where you could walk in and, for the amount of $3.98, record a two-sided record of your own performance. Elvis chose My Happiness and That's When Your Heartaches Begin. Amazingly both tracks and his follow up recording in july 1954 of I'll Never Stand In Your Way / It Wouldn't Be The Same (Without You) survived and are available on CD to this day. Biographer Peter Guralnick argues that he chose SUN in the hope of being discovered. Asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Elvis responded, 'I sing all kinds'.
When she pressed him on whom 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'. Elvis cut a second acetate in January 1954 - 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, Elvis 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 allegedly rejected him after a tryout, advising Elvis to stick to truck driving 'because you're never going to make it as a singer'.
Then Sam Phillips received a song from Nashville music publisher Sam Wortham, the same person who had delivered Just Walking In The Rain, SUN's first big hit record [The Prisonaires (Sun 186)]. Phillips heard something in this new song, but he couldn't find the singer on the demo, so he finally decided that it just might fit the young man that Marion had kept reminding him about. The song was called Without You, a heartfelt, but unexceptional ballad. The date, June 26, 1954, Marion phoned Elvis asking if he could come down to the studio. Elvis later said he ran all the way. But Elvis just couldn't get it right. This could have been the final rejection, the ultimate disappointment, if not for Sam's belief in raw talent and how to uncover it. He invited Elvis to sing everything he knew. Although just shop-worn ballads were presented to him, phillips did not make a final decision on 'the boy'. Sam talked about it with Scotty Moore, guitarist in the group 'The Starlite Ranglers'. Sam told Scotty to check Elvis out and gave him Elvis' phone number.
On July 4, 1956 Elvis went over to Scotty Moore's house to sing with Scotty and Bill Black to see what Elvis could do. Bobbie Moore, Scotty's wife says he had a good voice and they sang a lot of songs like 'I Love You Because' [Eventually to become the second song professionally recorded and released on Elvis' first RCA LP, Elvis Presley]. When Elvis left, Scotty and Bill discussed the proceedings, Bill turned to Scotty and looked at him kinda funny, 'What do you think of him?' Scotty said, 'Well, he's got a good voice, good singer, if we can find the right material'. So he called Sam and Sam said, You got the next night to rehearse' [At SUN].
Scotty Moore Talks About Meeting Elvis (03:50)
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July 5, 1954 : Rockabilly and Rock 'N' Roll are Born
July 5, as a greed, Elvis, Scotty, and Bill arrived at the SUN Studio after work. Sam went into the control room. The threesome continued, as they had done at Scotty's house, with what was basically a recap of artists like Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow and 'The Ink Spots'. The first documented song was Harbor Lights, a #1 hit in 1950 for Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra, but covered instantly by Bing Crosby.
The evenings defining moment came after four shaky attempts at Leon Payne's 1949 country hit, I Love You Because. It was during a break that arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup's That's All Right materialized.
Scotty Moore Talks About The Sun Sessions
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That's All Right
Scotty Moore : 'All of a sudden, Elvis just got started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass and started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam had the door to the control room open and stuck his neck out. 'What are you doing?' he asked. 'We don't know', we said. 'Well, back up, try to find a place to start, and do it again'.
Elvis : 'I never sang like that in my life, until I made that first record ... I remembered that song because I heard Arthur sing it, and I thought I would like to try it. That was it'.
Except from the book, A Boy From Tupelo : The recording notes for 'I Love You Because' and That's All Right'.
The DJ : Dewey Phillips
After Elvis had gone home, Sam called local DJ Dewey Phillips [No relation] and played him 'That's All Right' over the phone. Sam was convinced, but both men were acutely aware of the big question : What was it, really? The next morning, Dewey call Sam and asked to have two reference discs made - his hesitation was over, he wanted to play it on the show that night. When Dewey played the song that night, the switchboard 'lit up like a Christmas tree'. Calls kept coming in in and Dewey kept spinning the record - seemingly over and over, announcing that it was going to be a hit. No one knew it was the beginning of the phenomenal career of Elvis Presley, and arguably the birth of Rock 'n' Roll, and certainly modern music as we know it today.
Interviewing Elvis on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended in order to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed he was black.
Blue Moon Of Kentucky : The 'B' Side
A B-side was needed so on July 7 the trio again gathered at SUN with nothing prepared. Scotty Moore : 'Bill was the one who started to clown around singing the Bill Monroe song, Blue Moon Of Kentucky, imitating Bill Monroe in a high falsetto voice, but at a fast tempo, where as the original was done real slow. [But it can be said he was no imitating Elvis' performance on That's All Right]. Elvis started singing along, with both singing high tenor. Things started to happen real fast. Two sided dubs were sent to nearby radio stations, including Bob Neal at WMPS and 'Sleepy-Eyed' John at WHHM. Concerned about control, Sam convinced Scotty Moore to take on Elvis' management, ensuring that the teenager would be insulated from opportunists.
It is interesting that Bill Monroe who wrote Blue Moon of Kentucky and recorded it with his Bluegrass Boys in 1946 re-recorded it himself in 4/4 time rather than the original 3/4 after hearing--and seeing--Elvis perform it and at the Louisiana Hayride. (See Peter Guralnick's Last Train to Memphis, pages 121-129, for a more detailed account of this interesting collision of musical worlds.) Sam Phillips was relieved when the country legend and 'founder' of Bluegrass offered praises rather than the anticipated scorn for Presley's version of his tune. At 19, Elvis somehow had the instinct to sing the song perfectly. Even the songwriter admitted it.
The First Live performances
The trio played publicly for the first time on July 17 at the Bon Air club - Elvis 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 Elvis 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 Elvis would later remember as 'really a wild sound, like a jungle drum or something'. Soon after, Moore and Black quit their old band to play with Elvis regularly, and 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 Elvis 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'. Elvis made what would be his only appearance on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry 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. Two weeks later, Elvis was booked on Louisiana Hayride, the Opry's chief, and more adventurous, rival. The Shreveport-based show was broadcast to 198 radio stations in 28 states. Elvis 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 Elvis' movements with accented beats that he had mastered playing in strip clubs. Soon after the show, the Hayride engaged Elvis 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, and his trio began playing in new locales including Houston, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas. In October D.J. Fontana was hired to play drums for Elvis.
Using a very bare-bones drum kit, D.J. sat behind a curtain, unseen by the audience, and played behind Elvis and the boys as they performed the two songs allotted them, which were That's Alright Mama, and possibly (D.J.'s memory was a little sketchy) Blue Moon of Kentucky.
By early 1955, Elvis' regular Hayride appearances, constant touring, and well-received record releases had made him a substantial regional star, from Tennessee to West Texas. In January, Neal signed a formal management contract with Elvis and brought the singer to the attention of Colonel Tom Parker, whom he considered the best promoter in the music business. Parker, Dutch-born, though he claimed to be from West Virginia - had acquired an honorary colonel's commission from country singer turned Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis. Having successfully managed top country star Eddy Arnold, he was now working with the new number one country singer, Hank Snow. Parker booked Elvis on Snow's February tour. When the tour reached Odessa, Texas, a 19-year-old Roy Orbison saw Elvis 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'.
Scotty Moore Talks About Elvis Presleys Influences (02:38)
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RCA and The Colonel
RCA Victor acquired Elvis' contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who would go on to be his famous manager. Parker arranged with the owners of Hill and Range Publishing, Jean and Julian Aberbach, to create two entities, Elvis Presley Music and Gladys Music, to handle all of the new material recorded by Elvis. Songwriters were obliged to forego one third of their customary royalties in exchange for having him perform their compositions. By December, RCA had begun to heavily promote its new singer, and before month's end had reissued many of his Sun recordings. Elvis, at 20, was still a minor, so his father signed the contract.
Commercial breakout, controversy, first national TV appearances and debut album
On January 10, 1956, Elvis made his first recordings for RCA in Nashville. Extending the singer's by now customary backup of Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D.J. Fontana, RCA enlisted pianist Floyd Cramer, guitarist Chet Atkins, and three background singers, including Gordon Stoker of the popular Jordanaires quartet, to fill out the sound. The session produced the moody, unusual Heartbreak Hotel, released as a single on January 27. Colonel Parker finally brought Elvis to national television, booking him on CBS's Stage Show for six appearances over two months. The program, produced in New York, was hosted on alternate weeks by big band leaders and brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. After his first appearance, on January 28, Elvis stayed in town to record at RCA's New York studio. The sessions yielded eight songs, including a cover of Carl Perkins' rockabilly anthem Blue Suede Shoes. In February, Elvis' I Forgot to Remember to Forget, a Sun recording initially released the previous August, reached the top of the Billboard country chart. Neal's contract was terminated and, on March 2, Parker became Elvis' manager. RCA Victor released Elvis' self-titled debut album on March 23. Joined by five previously unreleased Sun recordings, its seven recently recorded tracks were of a broad variety. There were two country songs and a bouncy pop tune. The others would centrally define the evolving sound of rock and roll: Blue Suede Shoes - 'an improvement over Carl Perkins' in almost every way', according to critic Robert Hilburn - and three R&B numbers that had been part of Elvis' stage repertoire for some time, covers of Little Richard, Ray Charles, and The Drifters. As described by Hilburn, these 'were the most revealing of all. Unlike many white artists, who watered down the gritty edges of the original R&B versions of songs in the '50s, Elvis reshaped them. He not only injected the tunes with his own vocal character but also made guitar, not piano, the lead instrument in all three cases'. It became the first rock and roll album to top the Billboard chart, a position it held for 10 weeks. While Elvis was not an innovative instrumentalist like Moore or contemporary African American rockers Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, cultural historian Gilbert B. Rodman argues that the album's cover image, 'of Elvis having the time of his life on stage with a guitar in his hands played a crucial role in positioning the guitar, as the instrument that best captured the style and spirit of this new music'.
Historic Television Guest Appearances
In 1956, Elvis made his network television debut.
The first of his six appearances on Stage Show, a weekly variety program hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. He followed these with two appearances on The Milton Berle Show, the second of which included a performance of Hound Dog that was so provocative (for that time, anyway) that it caused a national scandal. Elvis next appeared on The Steve Allen Show, with Allen mocking the sensation of the Berle appearance by having Elvis dress in a tuxedo, eliminate his usual physical gyrations, and sing Hound Dog to a Basset Hound.
Video: Elvis Presley : Hound Dog : The Milton Berle Show : June 5, 1956 (05:44)
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Ed Sullivan had once said he would never have the controversial singer on his top-rated show, but that was before the week that Elvis' appearance on Steve Allen had surpassed Sullivan's ratings. After negotiating with Elvis' manager, Ed Sullivan paid Elvis the huge sum of $50,000 for appearing on three of his shows: September 9, 1956, October 28, 1956, and then on January 6, 1957. $50,000 was, at the time, more money than any performer had ever been paid to appear on a network variety program. Elvis' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was a major success. Over 60 million people, both young and old, watched the show and many people believe it helped bridge the generation gap for Elvis' acceptance into the mainstream. Elvis performed, Don't Be Cruel, Love Me Tender, Ready Teddy and Hound Dog. When Elvis made his third Sullivan appearance in January of 1957, Ed Sullivan surprised Elvis by telling him on camera that his show had never had a better experience with a name act, and said 'I wanted to say to Elvis and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy'.
It was on this very same Sullivan appearance that Elvis was shown on camera from the waist up only, one of early television history's most memorable moments. Elvis' next network television appearance was in 1960, when Frank Sinatra gave his variety show a 'Welcome Home, Elvis' theme to herald Elvis' return from the army. Elvis was paid $125,000 to appear - again, making history.
Milton Berle Show and 'Hound Dog'
Elvis made the first of two appearances on NBC's Milton Berle Show on April 3. His performance, on the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego, prompted cheers and screams from an audience of sailors and their dates. A few days later, a flight taking Elvis and his band to Nashville for a recording session left all three badly shaken when an engine died and the plane almost went down over Arkansas. Twelve weeks after its original release, Heartbreak Hotel became Elvis' first number one pop hit. In late April, Elvis began a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The shows were poorly received by the conservative, middle-aged hotel guests - 'like a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party', wrote a critic for Newsweek. Amid his Vegas tenure, Elvis, who had serious acting ambitions, signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures. He began a tour of the Midwest in mid-May, taking in 15 cities in as many days. He had attended several shows by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys in Vegas, and was struck by their cover of Hound Dog, a hit in 1952 for blues singer Big Mama Thornton. It became the new closing number of his act. After a show in La Crosse, Wisconsin, an urgent message on the letterhead of the local Catholic diocese's newspaper was sent to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. It warned that 'Elvis is a definite danger to the security of the United States, [His] actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth, After the show, more than 1,000 teenagers tried to gang into Elvis' room at the auditorium, Indications of the harm Elvis did just in La Crosse were the two high school girls, whose abdomen and thigh had Elvis' autograph'.
Video: Elvis Presley : Hound Dog : The Milton Berle Show : June 5, 1956 (07:53)
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The second Milton Berle Show appearance came on June 5 at NBC's Hollywood studio, amid another hectic tour. Berle persuaded the singer to leave his guitar backstage, advising, 'Let 'em see you, son'. During the performance, Elvis abruptly halted an uptempo rendition of Hound Dog with a wave of his arm and launched into a slow, grinding version accentuated with energetic, exaggerated body movements.
Elvis' gyrations created a storm of controversy. Television critics were outraged: Jack Gould of The New York Times wrote, 'Mr. Elvis has no discernible singing ability, His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner's aria in a bathtub, His one specialty is an accented movement of the body, primarily identified with the repertoire of the blond bombshells of the burlesque runway'. Ben Gross of the New York Daily News opined that popular music 'has reached its lowest depths in the 'grunt and groin' antics of one Elvis Presley, Elvis, who rotates his pelvis, gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos'. Ed Sullivan, whose own variety show was the nation's most popular, declared him 'unfit for family viewing'.
To Elvis' displeasure, he soon found himself being referred to as 'Elvis the Pelvis', which he called 'one of the most childish expressions I ever heard, comin' from an adult'.
Steve Allen Show and first Sullivan appearance
The Berle shows drew such high ratings that Elvis was booked for a July 1 appearance on NBC's The Steve Allen Show in New York. Allen, no fan of rock and roll, introduced a 'new Elvis' in a white bow tie and black tails. Elvis sang 'Hound Dog' for less than a minute to a basset hound wearing a top hat and bow tie.
As described by television historian Jake Austen, 'Allen thought Elvis was talentless and absurd, [he] set things up so that Elvis would show his contrition'. Allen, for his part, later wrote that he found Elvis' strange, gangly, country-boy charisma, his hard-to-define cuteness, and his charming eccentricity intriguing' and simply worked the singer into the customary 'comedy fabric' of his program.
Elvis would refer back to the Allen show as the most ridiculous performance of his career. Later that night, he appeared on Elvis Hy Gardner Calling , a popular local TV show. Pressed on whether he had learned anything from the criticism to which he was being subjected, Elvis responded, 'No, I haven't, I don't feel like I'm doing anything wrong, I don't see how any type of music would have any bad influence on people when it's only music, I mean, how would rock 'n' roll music make anyone rebel against their parents?' The next day, Elvis recorded Hound Dog, along with Any Way You Want Me and Don't Be Cruel. The Jordanaires sang harmony, as they had on The Steve Allen Show; they would work with Elvis through the 1960s. A few days later, the singer made an outdoor concert appearance in Memphis at which he announced, 'You know, those people in New York are not gonna change me none. I'm gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight'. In August, a judge in Jacksonville, Florida, ordered Elvis to tame his act. Throughout the following performance, he largely kept still, except for wiggling his little finger suggestively in mockery of the order. The single pairing Don't Be Cruel with Hound Dog ruled the top of the charts for 11 weeks - a mark that would not be surpassed for 36 years. Recording sessions for Elvis' second album took place in Hollywood during the first week of September. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the writers of Hound Dog, contributed Love Me.
The Ed Sullivan Show
Allen's show with Elvis had, for the first time, beaten CBS's The Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings. Sullivan, despite his June pronouncement, booked the singer for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000. The first, on September 9, 1956, was seen by approximately 60 million viewers - a record 82.6 percent of the television audience. Actor Charles Laughton hosted the show, filling in while Sullivan recuperated from a car accident. Elvis appeared in two segments that night from CBS Television City in Hollywood. According to Elvis legend, Elvis was shot only from the waist up. Watching clips of the Allen and Berle shows with his producer, Sullivan had opined that Elvis 'got some kind of device hanging down below the crotch of his pants - so when he moves his legs back and forth you can see the outline of his cock, I think it's a Coke bottle, We just can't have this on a Sunday night. This is a family show!' Sullivan publicly told TV Guide, 'As for his gyrations, the whole thing can be controlled with camera shots'. In fact, Elvis was shown head-to-toe in the first and second shows. Though the camera work was relatively discreet during his debut, with leg-concealing close ups when he danced, the studio audience reacted in customary style: screaming. Elvis' performance of his forthcoming single, the ballad Love Me Tender, prompted a record-shattering million advance orders. More than any other single event, it was this first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that made Elvis a national celebrity of barely precedented proportions. Accompanying Elvis' rise to fame, a cultural shift was taking place that he both helped inspire and came to symbolize. Igniting the 'biggest pop craze since Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra, Elvis brought rock'n'roll into the mainstream of popular culture', writes historian Marty Jezer. 'As Elvis set the artistic pace, other artists followed, Elvis, more than anyone else, gave the young a belief in themselves as a distinct and somehow unified generation - the first in America ever to feel the power of an integrated youth culture'.
Elvis Presley's Graceland
Graceland, Elvis Presley's home and refuge for twenty years, is one of the most visited homes in America today, now attracting over 600,000 visitors annually. It is also the most famous home in America after the White House. In 1991, Graceland Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Military service and mother's death (1958-60)
On March 24, 1958, Elvis was inducted into the U.S. Army as a private at Fort Chaffee, near Fort Smith, Arkansas. Captain Arlie Metheny, the information officer, was unprepared for the media attention drawn by the singer's arrival. Hundreds of people descended on Elvis as he stepped from the bus; photographers then accompanied him into the base. Elvis announced that he was looking forward to his military stint, saying he did not want to be treated any differently from anyone else: 'The Army can do anything it wants with me'. Later, at Fort Hood, Texas, Lieutenant Colonel Marjorie Schulten gave the media carte blanche for one day, after which she declared Elvis off-limits to the press. Soon after Elvis had commenced basic training at Fort Hood, he received a visit from Eddie Fadal, a businessman he had met when on tour in Texas. Fadal reported that Elvis had become convinced his career was finished - 'He firmly believed that'.
During a two-week leave in early June, Elvis cut five sides in Nashville. He returned to training, but in early August his mother was diagnosed with hepatitis and her condition worsened. Elvis was granted emergency leave to visit her, arriving in Memphis on August 12. Two days later, Gladys died of heart failure, aged 46. Elvis was devastated; their relationship had remained extremely close - even into his adulthood, they would use baby talk with each other and Elvis would address her with pet names.
After training at Fort Hood, Elvis joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany, on October 1. The Army also introduced Elvis to karate, which he studied seriously, later including it in his live performances. Fellow soldiers have attested to Elvis' wish to be seen as an able, ordinary soldier, despite his fame, and to his generosity while in the service. He donated his Army pay to charity, purchased TV sets for the base, and bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his outfit.
While in Friedberg, Elvis met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu. They would eventually marry after a seven-and-a-half-year courtship. In her autobiography, Priscilla says that despite his worries that it would ruin his career, Parker convinced Elvis that to gain popular respect, he should serve his country as a regular soldier rather than in Special Services, where he would have been able to give some musical performances and remain in touch with the public. Media reports echoed Elvis' concerns about his career, but RCA producer Steve Sholes and Freddy Bienstock of Hill and Range had carefully prepared for his two-year hiatus. Armed with a substantial amount of unreleased material, they kept up a regular stream of successful releases. Between his induction and discharge, Elvis had ten top 40 hits, including Wear My Ring Around Your Neck, the best-selling Hard Headed Woman, and One Night in 1958, and (Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I and the number one A Big Hunk O' Love in 1959. RCA also managed to generate four albums compiling old material during this period, most successfully Elvis' Golden Records (1958), which hit number three on the LP chart.
Focus on movies (1960-67) : Elvis Is Back
Elvis returned to the United States on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant on March 5. The train that carried him from New Jersey to Tennessee was mobbed all the way, and Elvis was called upon to appear at scheduled stops to please his fans. Back in Memphis, he wasted no time in returning to the studio. Sessions in March and April yielded two of his best-selling singles, the ballads It's Now or Never and Are You Lonesome Tonight?, and Elvis Is Back! The album features several songs described by Greil Marcus as full of Chicago blues 'menace, driven by Elvis' own super-miked acoustic guitar, brilliant playing by Scotty Moore, and demonic sax work from Boots Randolph. Elvis' singing wasn't sexy, it was pornographic'. As a whole, the record 'conjured up the vision of a performer who could be all things', in the words of music historian John Robertson: 'a flirtatious teenage idol with a heart of gold; a tempestuous, dangerous lover; a gutbucket blues singer; a sophisticated nightclub entertainer; [a] raucous rocker'.
Released only days after recording was complete, it reached number two on the album chart.
Elvis returned to television on May 12 as a guest on The Frank Sinatra Timex Special - ironic for both stars, given Sinatra's not-so-distant excoriation of rock and roll. Also known as Welcome Home Elvis, the show had been taped in late March, the only time all year Elvis performed in front of an audience. Parker secured an unheard-of $125,000 fee for eight minutes of singing. The broadcast drew an enormous viewership.
It is important to note that at the time Elvis came to prominence it was the normal thing for a big star in the music field to cross over to movies. They did not have the technology nor music videos, MTV etc. So Hollywood it was, and it was Elvis' dream to be a good actor, he held out hope for years that he would be given a good script and succeed in the movie business, eventually accepting this was not to be ...
Elvis Presley starred in 31 feature films as an actor and two theatrically released concert documentary films, all of which enjoyed financial success. For a number of years he was one of Hollywood's top box office draws and one of its highest-paid actors. His two most critically acclaimed films, Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) have become classics of their era. His movies and concert films enjoy a healthy life today in television syndication and home video sales and rentals. Some of his top-selling music came from his movies. Eleven of his movie soundtrack albums went to the top ten, and of those, four went to number one. The soundtrack for G.I. Blues (1960), was number one on the Billboard Top 100 album chart for 10 weeks and remained on the chart for 111 weeks. The album from Blue Hawaii was number one for 20 weeks and was on the chart for 79 weeks G.I. Blues, the soundtrack to Elvis' first film since his return, was a number one album in October. His first LP of sacred material, His Hand in Mine, followed two months later. It reached number 13 on the U.S. pop chart and number 3 in Great Britain, remarkable figures for a gospel album. In February 1961, Elvis performed two shows for a benefit event in Memphis, on behalf of 24 local charities. During a luncheon preceding the event, RCA presented him with a plaque certifying worldwide sales of over 75 million records. A 12-hour Nashville session in mid-March yielded nearly all of Elvis' next studio album, Something for Everybody. As described by John Robertson, it exemplifies the Nashville sound, the restrained, cosmopolitan style that would define country music in the 1960s. Presaging much of what was to come from Elvis himself over the next half-decade, the album is largely 'a pleasant, unthreatening pastiche of the music that had once been Elvis' birthright'. It would be his sixth number one LP. Another benefit concert, raising money for a Pearl Harbor memorial, was staged on March 25, in Hawaii. It was to be Elvis' last public performance for seven years.
On location for the picture 'Follow That Dream'.
Lost in Hollywood
Parker had by now pushed Elvis into a heavy movie making schedule, focused on formulaic, modestly budgeted musical-comedies. Elvis at first insisted on pursuing more serious roles, but when two films in a more dramatic vein - Flaming Star (1960) and Wild in the Country (1961) - were less commercially successful, he reverted to the formula. For the remainder of the decade, during which he made 27 movies, there were few further exceptions. His films were almost universally panned; one critic dismissed them as a 'pantheon of bad taste'. Nonetheless, they were virtually all profitable. Hal Wallis, who produced nine of them, declared, 'An Elvis picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood'. Of Elvis' films in the 1960s, 15 were accompanied by soundtrack albums and another 5 by soundtrack EPs. The movies' rapid production and release schedules - he frequently starred in three a year - affected his music. According to Jerry Leiber, the soundtrack formula was already evident before Elvis left for the Army: 'three ballads, one medium-tempo [number], one up-tempo, and one break blues boogie'. As the decade wore on, the quality of the soundtrack songs grew 'progressively worse'. Julie Parrish, who appeared in Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966), says that he hated many of the songs chosen for his films. The Jordanaires' Gordon Stoker describes how Elvis would retreat from the studio microphone: 'The material was so bad that he felt like he couldn't sing it'. Most of the movie albums featured a song or two from respected writers such as the team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. But by and large, according to biographer Jerry Hopkins, the numbers seemed to be 'written on order by men who never really understood Elvis or rock and roll'. Regardless of the songs' quality, it has been argued that Elvis generally sang them well, with commitment. Critic Dave Marsh heard the opposite: 'Elvis isn't trying, probably the wisest course in the face of material like No Room to Rumba in a Sports Car and Rock-a-Hula Baby.
In the first half of the decade, three of Elvis' soundtrack albums hit number one on the pop charts, and a few of his most popular songs came from his films, such as Can't Help Falling in Love (1961) and Return to Sender (1962). Viva Las Vegas, the title track to the 1964 film, was a minor hit as a B-side, and became truly popular only later.) But, as with artistic merit, the commercial returns steadily diminished.
During a five-year span - 1964 through 1968 - Elvis had only one top ten hit: Crying in the Chapel (1965), a gospel number recorded back in 1960. As for non-movie albums, between the June 1962 release of Pot Luck and the November 1968 release of the soundtrack to the television special that signaled his comeback, only one LP of new material by Elvis was issued: the gospel album How Great Thou Art (1967). It won him his first Grammy Award, for Best Sacred Performance. As described in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Elvis was 'arguably the greatest white gospel singer of his time [and] really the last rock & roll artist to make gospel as vital a component of his musical personality as his secular songs'.
Shortly before Christmas 1966, more than seven years since they first met, Elvis proposed to Priscilla Beaulieu. They were married on May 1, 1967, in a brief ceremony in their suite at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. The flow of formulaic movies and assembly-line soundtracks rolled on. It was not until October 1967, when the Clambake soundtrack LP registered record low sales for a new Elvis album, that RCA executives recognized a problem. 'By then, of course, the damage had been done', as historians Connie Kirchberg and Marc Hendrickx put it. 'Elvis was viewed as a joke by serious music lovers and a has-been to all but his most loyal fans'.
Comeback (1968-73) : Elvis: the '68 Comeback Special
Elvis' only child, Lisa Marie, was born on February 1, 1968, during a period when he had grown deeply unhappy with his career. Of the eight Elvis singles released between January 1967 and May 1968, only two charted in the top 40, and none higher than number 28. His forthcoming soundtrack album, Speedway, would die at number 82 on the Billboard chart. Parker had already shifted his plans to television, where Elvis had not appeared since the Sinatra Timex show in 1960. He maneuvered a deal with NBC that committed the network to both finance a theatrical feature and broadcast a Christmas special.
Recorded in late June, the special, called simply 'Elvis', aired on December 3, 1968.
Later known as the '68 Comeback Special, the show featured lavishly staged studio productions as well as songs performed with a band in front of a small audience - Elvis' first live performances since 1961. The live segments saw Elvis clad in tight black leather, singing and playing guitar in an uninhibited style reminiscent of his early rock and roll days. Director and co producer Steve Binder had worked hard to reassure the nervous singer and to produce a show that was far from the hour of Christmas songs Parker had originally planned. The show, NBC's highest rated that season, captured 42 percent of the total viewing audience. Jon Landau of Eye magazine remarked, 'There is something magical about watching a man who has lost himself find his way back home. He sang with the kind of power people no longer expect of rock 'n' roll singers. He moved his body with a lack of pretension and effort that must have made Jim Morrison green with envy'.
Scotty Moore Talks About The '68 Comeback Special (02:02)
From Elvis In Memphis and the International
Buoyed by the experience of the Comeback Special, Elvis engaged in a prolific series of recording sessions at American Sound Studio, which led to the acclaimed From Elvis in Memphis. Released in June 1969, it was his first secular, non-soundtrack album from a dedicated period in the studio in eight years. As described by Dave Marsh, it is 'a masterpiece in which Elvis immediately catches up with pop music trends that had seemed to pass him by during the movie years. He sings country songs, soul songs and rockers with real conviction, a stunning achievement'. The album featured the hit single In the Ghetto, issued in April, which reached number three on the pop chart - Elvis' first non-gospel top ten hit since Bossa Nova Baby in 1963. Further hit singles were culled from the American Sound sessions: Suspicious Minds, Don't Cry Daddy, and Kentucky Rain.
Elvis was keen to resume regular live performing. Following the success of the Comeback Special, offers came in from around the world. The London Palladium offered Parker $28,000 for a one-week engagement. He responded, 'That's fine for me, now how much can you get for Elvis?' In May, the brand new International Hotel in Las Vegas, boasting the largest showroom in the city, announced that it had booked Elvis. He was scheduled to perform 57 shows over four weeks beginning July 31. Moore, Fontana, and the Jordanaires declined to participate, afraid of losing the lucrative session work they had in Nashville.
Elvis assembled new, top-notch accompaniment, led by guitarist James Burton and including two gospel groups, The Imperials and Sweet Inspirations. Nonetheless, he was nervous: his only previous Las Vegas engagement, in 1956, had been dismal. Parker, who intended to make Elvis' return the show business event of the year, oversaw a major promotional push. For his part, hotel owner Kirk Kerkorian arranged to send his own plane to New York to fly in rock journalists for the debut performance.
Elvis Presley : Las Vegas : August 17, 1969.
Elvis took to the stage without introduction. The audience of 2,200, including many celebrities, gave him a standing ovation before he sang a note and another after his performance. A third followed his encore, Can't Help Falling in Love (a song that would be his closing number for much of the 1970s). At a press conference after the show, when a journalist referred to him as 'The King', Elvis gestured toward Fats Domino, who was taking in the scene. 'No', Elvis said, 'that's the real king of rock and roll'. The next day, Parker's negotiations with the hotel resulted in a five-year contract for Elvis to play each February and August, at an annual salary of $1 million. Newsweek commented, 'There are several unbelievable things about Elvis, but the most incredible is his staying power in a world where meteoric careers fade like shooting stars'. Rolling Stone called Elvis' upernatural, his own resurrection'. In November, Elvis' final non-concert movie, Change Of Habit, opened.
The double album From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis came out the same month; the first LP consisted of live performances from the International, the second of more cuts from the American Sound sessions. Suspicious Minds reached the top of the charts - Elvis' first U.S. pop number one in over seven years, and his last. Cassandra Peterson, later television's Elvira, met Elvis during this period in Las Vegas, where she was working as showgirl. She recalls of their encounter, 'He was so anti-drug when I met him. I mentioned to him that I smoked marijuana, and he was just appalled'.
He said, 'Don't ever do that again'. Elvis was not only deeply opposed to recreational drugs, he also rarely drank. Several of his family members had been alcoholics, a fate he intended to avoid.
Back on tour and meeting Nixon
Elvis returned to the International early in 1970 for the first of the year's two month-long engagements, performing two shows a night. Recordings from these shows were issued on the album On Stage. In late February, Elvis performed six attendance-record - breaking shows at the Houston Astrodome. In April, the single The Wonder of You was issued - a number one hit in Great Britain, it topped the U.S. adult contemporary chart, as well. MGM filmed rehearsal and concert footage at the International during August for the documentary Elvis: That's the Way It Is. Elvis was by now performing in a jumpsuit, which would become a trademark of his live act. During this engagement, he was threatened with murder unless $50,000 was paid. Elvis had been the target of many threats since the 1950s, often without his knowledge. The FBI took the threat seriously and security was stepped up for the next two shows. Elvis went onstage with a Derringer in his right boot and a .45 pistol in his waistband, but the concerts went off without incident.
The album That's the Way It Is, produced to accompany the documentary and featuring both studio and live recordings, marked a stylistic shift. As music historian John Robertson notes, 'The authority of Elvis' singing helped disguise the fact that the album stepped decisively away from the American-roots inspiration of the Memphis sessions towards a more middle-of-the-road sound.
With country put on the back burner, and soul and R&B left in Memphis, what was left was very classy, very clean white pop - perfect for the Las Vegas crowd, but a definite retrograde step for Elvis'. After the end of his International engagement on September 7, Elvis embarkedon a week-long concert tour, largely of the South, his first since 1958. Another week-long tour, of the West Coast, followed in November.
On December 21, 1970, Elvis engineered a bizarre meeting with President Richard Nixon at the White House, where he expressed his patriotism and his contempt for the hippie drug culture. He asked Nixon for a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge, to add to similar items he had begun collecting and to signify official sanction of his patriotic efforts. Nixon, who apparently found the encounter awkward, expressed a belief that Elvis could send a positive message to young people and that it was therefore important he 'retain his credibility'. Elvis told Nixon that The Beatles, whose songs he regularly performed in concert during the era, exemplified what he saw as a trend of anti-Americanism and drug abuse in popular culture. (Elvis and his friends had had a four-hour get-together with The Beatles five years earlier.)
President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley : The Oval Office : December 21, 1970.
The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce named Elvis one of its annual Ten Most Outstanding Young Men of the Nation on January 16, 1971. Not long after, the City of Memphis named the stretch of Highway 51 South on which Graceland is located 'Elvis Presley Boulevard'. The same year, Elvis became the first rock and roll singer to be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award (then known as the Bing Crosby Award) by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Grammy Award organization. Three new, non-movie Elvis studio albums were released in 1971, as many as had come out over the previous eight years. Best received by critics was Elvis Country, a concept record that focused on genre standards. The biggest seller was Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, 'the truest statement of all', according to Greil Marcus. 'In the midst of ten painfully genteel Christmas songs, every one sung with appalling sincerity and humility, one could find Elvis tom-catting his way through six blazing minutes of Merry Christmas, Baby, a raunchy old Charles Brown blues, If [Elvis'] sin was his lifelessness, it was his sinfulness that brought him to life'.
Marriage breakdown and Aloha from Hawaii
MGM again filmed Elvis in April 1972, this time for Elvis on Tour, which went on to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Documentary Film that year. His gospel album He Touched Me, released that month, would earn him his second Grammy Award, for Best Inspirational Performance. A 14-date tour commenced with an unprecedented four consecutive sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden.
The evening concert on July 10 was recorded and issued in LP form a week later. Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden became one of Elvis' biggest-selling albums. After the tour, the single Burning Love was released - Elvis' last top ten hit on the U.S. pop chart. 'The most exciting single Elvis has made since All Shook Up, wrote rock critic Robert Christgau. 'Who else could make 'It's coming closer, the flames are now licking my body' sound like an assignation with James Brown's backup band?' Elvis and his wife, meanwhile, had become increasingly distant, barely cohabiting. The Presleys separated on February 23, 1972, after Priscilla disclosed her relationship with Mike Stone, a karate instructor Elvis had recommended to her. Five months later, Elvis' new girlfriend, Linda Thompson, a songwriter and one-time Memphis beauty queen, moved in with him. Elvis and his wife filed for divorce on August 18. In January 1973, Elvis performed two benefit concerts for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund in connection with a groundbreaking TV special, Aloha from Hawaii. The first show served as a practice run and backup should technical problems affect the live broadcast two days later.
Elvis Presley : TV Highlights : 1956, 1957, 1968, 1973 (03:26)
Elvis TV Career Highlights 1956-1973 : A special video compilation looking at the highlights of Elvis on TV from 1956, through to the '68 Comeback Special and Aloha From Hawaii Satellite TV broadcast.
Burning Love : From Aloha From Hawaii : January 14, 1973 (03:12)
Aired as scheduled on January 14, 'Aloha from Hawaii' was the first global concert satellite broadcast, reaching approximately 1.5 billion viewers live and on tape delay.
Elvis' costume became the most recognized example of the elaborate concert garb with which his latter-day persona became closely associated. As described by Bobbie Ann Mason, 'At the end of the show, when he spreads out his American Eagle cape, with the full stretched wings of the eagle studded on the back, he becomes a god figure'. The accompanying double album, released in February, went to number one and eventually sold over 5 million copies in the United States. It proved to be Elvis' last U.S. number one pop album during his lifetime. At a midnight show the same month, four men rushed onto the stage in an apparent attack. Security men leapt to Elvis' defense, and the singer's karate instinct took over as he ejected one invader from the stage himself.
Elvis Presley : Arriving In Hawaii : January 9, 1973
Elvis Presley : Aloha From Hawaii Rehearsal Concert : January 12, 1973
Elvis Presley : Receiving an award, backstage : January 13, 1973, before his Aloha Concert
Elvis Presley : Hawaii : January 14, 1973
January 14, 1973 : 'Aloha from Hawaii'.
Health deterioration and death (1973-77)
Elvis' divorce took effect on October 9, 1973. He was now becoming increasingly unwell.
On July 13, 1976, Vernon Presley - who had become deeply involved in his son's financial affairs - fired 'Memphis Mafia' bodyguards Red West (Elvis' friend since the 1950s), Sonny West, and David Hebler, citing the need to 'cut back on expenses'. Elvis was in Palm Springs at the time. An associate of Elvis', John O'Grady, argued that the bodyguards were dropped because their rough treatment of fans had prompted too many lawsuits. Elvis and Linda Thompson split in November, and he took up with a new girlfriend, Ginger Alden. He proposed to Alden and gave her an engagement ring two months later, though several of his friends later claimed that he had no serious intention of marrying again.
RCA, which had enjoyed a steady stream of product from Elvis for over a decade, grew anxious as his interest in spending time in the studio waned. After a December 1973 session that produced 18 songs, enough for almost two albums, he did not enter the studio in 1974. Parker sold RCA on another concert record, Elvis: As Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis. Recorded on March 20, it included a version of How Great Thou Art that would win Elvis his third and final competitive Grammy Award. (All three of his competitive Grammy wins - out of 14 total nominations - were for gospel recordings.) Elvis returned to the studio in Hollywood in March 1975, recording 10 songs that would form the Elvis Today album, [his last studio album]. but Parker's attempts to arrange another session toward the end of the year were unsuccessful. In 1976, RCA sent a mobile studio to Graceland that made possible two full-scale recording sessions at Elvis' home. Even in that comfortable context, the recording process was now a struggle for him.
For all the concerns of his label and manager, in studio sessions between July 1973 and October 1976, Elvis recorded virtually the entire contents of six albums. Though he was no longer a major presence on the pop charts, five of those albums entered the top five of the country chart, and three went to number one: Promised Land (1975), From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee (1976), and Moody Blue (1977).
'The Lisa Marie' : Elvis Presley's Convair 880 Jet
On April 17, 1975 Elvis bought a Convair 880 Jet recently taken out of service by Delta Airlines for the then-substantial sum of $250,000. With complete refurbishing the total exceeded $600,000. He immediately rechristened it the Lisa Marie. But this wasn't just an impulse purchase of some sort of ultimate flying Cadillac.
Elvis Presley died at Graceland on August 16, 1977. He was 42 years old.
Through the early morning of the 16th Elvis took care of last minute tour details and relaxed with family and staff. He was to fly to Portland, Maine that night and do a show there on the 17th, then continue the scheduled tour. Elvis retired to his master suite at Graceland around 7:00 AM to rest for his evening flight. By late morning, Elvis Presley had died of heart failure. In a matter of hours the shock registered around the world. Read more.
Overview of Elvis Presley's Achievements
Elvis starred in 33 movies, made history with his television appearances and specials, and knew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert performances on tour and in Las Vegas. Globally, he has sold over one billion records, more than any other artist. His American sales have earned him gold, platinum or multi-platinum awards for 131 different albums and singles, far more than any other artist. Among his many awards and accolades were 14 Grammy nominations (3 wins) from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received at age 36, and his being named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 by the United States Jaycees. Without any of the special privileges his celebrity status might have afforded him, he honorably served his country in the U.S. Army.
His talent, good looks, sensuality, charisma, and good humor endeared him to millions, as did the humility and human kindness he demonstrated throughout his life. Known the world over by his first name, he is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular culture. Elvis died at his Memphis home, Graceland, on August 16, 1977.
It is estimated that Elvis Presley has sold over one billion record units worldwide, more than anyone in record industry history. In America alone, Elvis has had 141 different albums and singles that have been certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with more certifications expected as research into his past record sales continues and as current sales go on.
Research is also underway to document his record sales achievements in other countries. It is estimated that 40% of Elvis' total record sales have been outside the United States.
For The Billionth And The Last Time : Lifting the Lid on the King's record sales
Elvis Presley : Australia Single & Album Charts [With links to US and UK Charts]
Elvis Presley's trophy room at Graceland is filled with gold and platinum records and awards of all kinds from around the world. Some of the countries represented are: Norway, Yugoslavia, Japan, Australia, South Africa, England, Sweden, Germany, France, Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
It is interesting to note that, except for a handful of movie soundtrack songs, Elvis did not record in other languages, and, except for five shows in three Canadian cities in 1957, he did not perform in concert outside the United States. Still, his recordings and films enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, popularity all over the globe, and he is known throughout the world by his first name.
Record Chart Statistics
Elvis Presley has had no less than 149 songs to appear on Billboard's Hot 100 Pop Chart in America. Of these, 114 were in the top forty, 40 were in the top ten, and 18 went to number one. His number one singles spent a total of 80 weeks at number one. He has also had over 90 charted albums with ten of them reaching number one. These figures are only for the pop charts, and only in America. He was also a leading artist in the American country, R&B, and gospel fields, and his chart success in other countries was substantial.
Elvis Presley's three network television specials : Elvis (1968), Elvis : Aloha from Hawaii, via Satellite (1973), and Elvis in Concert (1977) - stand among the most highly rated specials of their time. His 1968 special, Elvis , is one of the most critically acclaimed music specials of all time. His 1973 special, Elvis : Aloha from Hawaii, via Satellite , was seen in 40 countries by 1 billion to 1.5 billion people and made television history. It was seen on television in more American homes than man's first walk on the moon.
The Concert Stage
When Elvis returned to the live stage after the success of his 1968 television special and the wrap-up of his Hollywood movie contract obligations, he opened at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in the summer of 1969 for a 4-week, 57-show engagement that broke all existing Las Vegas attendance records.
He returned to the International a few months later in early 1970, during the slow winter season in Vegas, and broke his own attendance record. Right after that came a record-breaking six-show engagement at the Astrodome in Houston, where Elvis played to a total of 207,494 people.
Elvis took his elaborate live show on the road in the latter part of 1970 for his first concert tour since 1957. Throughout the 1970's Elvis toured America, breaking box office records right and left, and continued to play an engagement or two per year in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Among the outstanding highlights of this period was in 1972, when Elvis performed four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden. During his 'concert years' from 1969 to 1977, Elvis gave nearly 1,100 concert performances.
Elvis Presley's Grammy Awards
Elvis received 14 Grammy nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). His three wins were for gospel recordings - the album How Great Thou Art (1967), the album He Touched Me (1972) and his live Memphis concert recording of the song How Great Thou Art (1974). In 1971, NARAS also recognized him with their Lifetime Achievement Award (known then as the Bing Crosby Award ... in honor of its first recipient). Elvis was 36 years old at the time. Five of Elvis' recordings have been inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame - his original 1956 recordings of Hound Dog (inducted 1988) and Heartbreak Hotel (inducted 1995), his original 1954 recording of That's All Right (inducted 1998), his original 1969 recording of Suspicious Minds (inducted 1999), and his original 1956 recording of Don't Be Cruel (inducted 2002). The Hall of Fame recognizes 'early recordings of lasting, qualitative or historical significance', with many inductees being recordings that were created and released before the 1958 inception of NARAS and the Grammy Awards.
The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (the Jaycees) named Elvis Presley One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 in a ceremony on January 16, 1971, one of Elvis' proudest moments. This award has been given since 1938 and has honored men of achievement in all areas of endeavor - sports, government, science, medicine, entertainment, etc. It recognizes outstanding personal achievement and the exemplification of the opportunities available in the free enterprise system, along with patriotism, humanitarianism, and community service. (In the 1980's, eligibility was opened to women as well as men, and the award has since been presented to the year's Ten Outstanding Young Americans.)
Elvis Presley was famous for giving away Cadillacs, cash and jewelry, often on the spur of the moment. But, the true depth and breadth of his generosity and community involvement is not so widely known.
In 1961, Elvis gave a benefit concert at Bloch Arena in Hawaii that raised over $65,000 toward the building of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. The resulting publicity gave new life to the fund-raising effort, which had, by then, lost its momentum. The memorial opened a year later.
Audience tickets for his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii television special and its pre-broadcast rehearsal show carried no price, as each audience member was asked to pay whatever he or she could. The performances and concert merchandise sales were a benefit raising $75,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund in Hawaii.
Each year, for many years, Elvis gave $1,000 or more to each of fifty Memphis-area charities, but also continually made many other charitable donations in Memphis and around the country. Most of Elvis' philanthropic endeavors received no publicity at all. Throughout his adult life, for friends, for family, and for total strangers, he quietly paid hospital bills, bought homes, supported families, paid off debts, and much more.
Elvis' legacy of generosity continues through the work of the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation, which is the philanthropic branch of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. and the creator of the Elvis Presley Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of Memphis. The tradition of giving also continues through the work of the Elvis fan clubs worldwide, most of which are heavily involved in charitable endeavors in Elvis' memory.
The Elvis Presley Stamp
In 1992, the U.S. Postal Service announced that Elvis' image would be used for a commemorative postage stamp. The Postal Service narrowed the artwork choices down to two images - one of Elvis in the 1950's as a sizzling young rocker, and one of him as a still-svelte concert superstar in his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii special. In an unprecedented move, the USPS put the decision to the American people and distributed ballots coast to coast. Over 1.2 million votes were cast, and the image of the young rocker won. The stamp was released on January 8, 1993, with extravagant first day of issue ceremonies at Graceland. The Elvis stamp is the most widely publicized stamp issue in the history of the U.S. Postal Service, and it is the top selling commemorative postage stamp of all time. The USPS printed 500 million of them, three times the usual print run for a commemorative stamp. Several countries outside the USA also have issued Elvis stamps over the years.
Special Posthumous Honors
The 1984 W.C. Handy Award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis recognized Elvis for 'keeping the blues alive in his music - rock and roll'. The Academy of Country Music's first Golden Hat Award presented in 1984 recognized Elvis' influence on country music. In 1986, Elvis was among the first group of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1987, Elvis was honored with the first posthumous presentation of the Award of Merit by the American Music Awards, 1987. In 1998, Elvis received the Country Music Association's highest honor, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2001, Elvis was inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame. With that honor, Elvis is the only person, so far, to become a member of all three of these halls of fame - Rock and Roll, Country and Gospel.
Generations of Fans
Currently, there are over 625 active Elvis Presley fan clubs worldwide. Elvis' popularity is at an all-time high, and his legacy continues to reach new audiences. Half of Graceland's visitorship is age 35 and under.
A New Concert Career
On August 16, 1997, Elvis Presley, via video, starred in an extravagant concert production titled Elvis in Concert '97 at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee, accompanied live on stage by over thirty of his former band mates and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The show played before a capacity crowd of fans who had come to Memphis from around the world to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Elvis' death. Elvis broke the Mid-South Coliseum's all-time record dollar figure for box office sales. This concert was the prototype for the 1998/99 touring production Elvis Presley In Concert [On DVD as Elvis Lives]. By being the first performer ever to headline a live concert tour while no longer living, Elvis made history again. The March 1998 tour included a three-show smash engagement at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The August 1998 tour included the excitement of Elvis' 'return' to the Las Vegas Hilton with an eight-show engagement. The January/ February 1999 European tour opened with a sell-out at London's Wembley Arena and, in effect, marked Elvis Presley's first-ever concerts outside of North America. The show continues to tour periodically.
Elvis was a genius. He didn't express himself the way the middle classes do, which is with word play and being able to explain his actions and reactions. He acted on gut instinct and expressed himself by the way he held the microphone, by the way he moved his hips, by the way that he sang down the microphone. That was his genius ... I believe the essence of any performer is gut instinct ... Because it's all in you, it's instinct.
'Elvis Presley has been described variously as a baritone and a tenor. An extraordinary compass- the so-called register-, and a very wide range of vocal color have something to do with this divergence of opinion. The voice covers two octaves and a third, from the baritone low-G to the tenor high B, with an upward extension in falsetto to at least a D flat. Presley's best octave is in the middle, D-flat to D-flat, granting an extra full step up or down. Call him a high baritone. In 'It's now or never', (1960), he ends it in a full voice cadence (A, G, F), that has nothing to do with the vocal devices of R&B and Country. That A-note is hit right on the nose, and it is rendered less astonishing only by the number of tracks where he lands easy and accurate B-flats. Moreover, he has not been confined to one type of vocal production. In ballads and country songs he belts out full-voiced high G's and A's that an opera baritone might envy. He is a naturally assimilative stylist with a multiplicity of voices - in fact, Elvis' is an extraordinary voice, or many voices'.
So different are Elvis' voices, that if one could find a person who has never heard his recordings and you put him or her on an island and then had them listen to these fifty songs, mixed with say, those of 12 other distinctive singers, and then you then ask him or her, to classify them, to separate the singers, I could bet a million dollars that the person will never say that there are 13 singers, as would be the case, but at least 25.
Elvis Presley Family History : 1669-1935
Jessie D. McDowell (J.D.) Presley : Elvis Presleys Grandfather
Gladys and Vernon Presley : Elvis Presley's Mother and Father
Elvis Aaron Presley 1935-1953 : The Early Years of a Legend
Elvis Presley : 1953-1955
Elvis Presley : 1956 : The Year Elvis Bought Rock 'N' Roll To America
The Real Story of Elvis Presley : In 1956 Vernon and Gladys Talked About Raising Young Elvis
Elvis Presley : 1957
Elvis Presley on National TV : 1956-57
Elvis Presley's Graceland : 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard
Elvis Presley In The U.S. Army
Elvis Presley : 1958-1960
Elvis Presley : 1960-1966
Elvis Presleys Movies
Elvis Presley's Comeback 1967-1969
Elvis Presley : 1970-1977
Elvis Presley's Lisa Marie : Convair 880 Jet Plane
The Death Of Elvis Presley : August 16, 1977
Elvis' middle name, is it Aron or Aaron?
Interview with Vernon Presley by Nancy Anderson : Good Housekeeping, January 1978
Graceland marks 30th year as tourist attraction 
Elvis Pompadour In 'The 10 Most Iconic Hairstyles'
Rock Idol Elvis Presley Dies at 42
Elvis' Funeral Procession August 17, 1977
A Broken Heart ... Hastened Death
World's At Standstill For Elvis' Fiancee
Firemen's Call To Graceland Was Anything But Routine
Elvis Presley and the Events Of 1977
Australian Press 1977
Photos : August 16-19, 1977
For a detailed history of Elvis Presley see our pages; starting at Elvis Presley 1935-1953
Elvis Presley Single and Album Charts
Elvis Presley: Australian Singles Chart
Elvis Presley: Australian Album Chart
Elvis Presley: Billboard Singles Chart USA
Elvis Presley: Billboard Album Chart USA
Elvis Presley's UK No. 1 Singles
Elvis Presley's UK No.1 Albums
Interview with Larry Muhoberac
Interview with John Wilkinson
Interview with Michael Jarrett, songwriter, I'm Leavin'
Interview with James Burton
Interview with James Burton Sydney Australia 2006
James Burton : First Call For The Royalty Of Rockabilly
Interview with Ronnie Tutt
Interview with Ronnie Tutt #2
Interview with Jerry Scheff
Interview with Glen D. Hardin
Interview with Tony Brown
Interview with Charlie Hodge
Interview with Sherrill Nielsen
Interview with Terry Blackwood and Jim Murray
Interview with Scotty Moore
Interview with D.J. Fontana
Interview with Ernst Jorgensen