Elvis Presley, full name Elvis Aaron Presley or Elvis Aron Presley (see Researcher’s Note), was an American popular singer best known as the “King of Rock and Roll” from the mid-1950s until his passing on August 16, 1977 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, and passed away there on August 16, 1977.
Elvis Presley’s birthplace
Mississippi photographs from the Ben May Charitable Trust Collection by Carol M. Highsmith are kept in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-highsm-49052)
Elvis Presley, who was up in abject poverty in Tupelo before moving to Memphis as a teenager, had just been off welfare for a few weeks when producer Sam Phillips at the local blues company Sun Records called him in response to his audition tape. The following several weeks were spent in recording sessions with Elvis Presley’s band, which also included guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. They sang church hymns, blues and country tunes, Tin Pan Alley ballads, and other songs for which Elvis Presley would become well-known. Elvis Presley was familiar with some of this music from listening to the radio, some from attending group sings at the Rev. H.W. Brewster’s Black Memphis church and his parents’ Pentecostal church, and some from the blues clubs on Beale Street that he first frequented as a teenager.
With his relatively long greased-back hair and eccentric colour combinations, Elvis Presley was already flamboyant, but it wasn’t until he and the band started performing “That’s All Right Mama,” a blues song by Arthur (“Big Boy”) Crudup, in July 1954 that his true musical personality came into its own. With Presley’s high tenor voice adding a lighter touch and the fundamental rhythm striking a much more fluid groove, they eventually created a surprising synthesis that would eventually be known as rockabilly while preserving many of the blues inflections of the original. The five singles Presley released on Sun during the following year bore this sound as their signature. Despite the fact that none of them achieved widespread success, by the time he released the fifth, “Mystery Train,” arguably his best song ever, in August 1955, he had amassed a sizable Southern fan base thanks to his recordings, live performances in local roadhouses and clubs, and radio appearances on the nationally broadcast Louisiana Hayride. (The addition of drummer D.J. Fontana, initially for the Hayride performances but also on records beginning with “Mystery Train,” was a significant musical adjustment.
Colonel Tom Parker, a country music hustler who had produced stars out of Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow, took over Elvis Presley’s management at that point. In order to sell Elvis Presley’s song library and recording contract to two significant New York City-based companies, Hill and Range and RCA Victor, respectively, Parker made the necessary arrangements. Elvis Presley received $5,000 while Sun received a total of $35,000. With a slightly larger ensemble of musicians, but still including Moore, Black, and Fontana, he started recording at RCA’s studios in Nashville, Tennessee, and soon after, he started to become a household name thanks to a string of hits, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Love Me Tender” (all in 1956), “All Shook Up” (1957), and others.
He launched the rock and roll era, absolutely ruled the best-seller lists from 1956 to 1958, and provided opportunities for both white and Black rock musicians. His television appearances broke attendance records, particularly those on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show. Even a handful of his minor flicks were box office successes.
When it was revealed in the beginning of 1958 that Elvis Presley had been drafted and would join the U.S. Army, there was that rarest of all pop culture occurrences, a moment of actual anguish. Elvis Presley became the adolescent idol of his decade and was hailed everywhere by shouting mobs of young women. More significantly, he served as the major cultural catalyst of his period. Elvis Presley conveyed a contradictory image of humility and self-assurance, of unwavering dedication and hilarious disbelief in his capacity to stir up hysteria. The first generation of rockabillies, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, as well as later musicians with very different combinations of musical and cultural influences and aspirations, were among the literally thousands of musicians who were influenced by him. Initially, these musicians were more or less like-minded Southerners. It was impossible to conceive of a significant rock star, from John Lennon to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan to Prince, who did not expressly owe a tribute to Elvis Presley.
In addition to that, Elvis Presley moved his audience. At the time of Elvis Presley’s passing, Springsteen remarked, “It was like Elvis Presley whispered his dream in all our ears and then we dreamed it.” To be like Elvis Presley, which ultimately meant to be free and unfettered yet still a part of everyday life, you didn’t even have to desire to be a rock and roll star or even a musician. Elvis Presley was the first to personify concepts that literally millions of people—an whole generation or two—used to describe their sense of personal style and aspirations.
He was therefore everything but loved by all. He was hated by anyone who did not worship him (no one found him ignorable). His Pentecostally derived hip-swinging stage manner and breathy vocal asides were deemed offensive by preachers and pundits, and he was labelled an anathema. He was criticised by racists for mixing Black and white music (and Elvis Presley was always scrupulous in crediting his Black sources, one of the things that made him different from the Tin Pan Alley writers and singers who had for decades lifted Black styles without credit). Juvenile misbehaviour and all teen hooliganism were attributed to him. Nevertheless, he came across as amiable, cordial, and soft-spoken—almost shy—in every appearance on television. He only became “Elvis the Pelvis” with a band at his back and a beat in his ear.
Elvis Presley left the army in 1960 after serving as a soldier in Germany instead of joining the Special Services entertainment unit. Those who viewed him as commercial hype devoid of skill anticipated his demise. Instead, he kept on having hits from the recordings he had accumulated just before joining the service. In the eight years that followed his return to the United States, he continued where he had left off, producing more than 30 films (ranging from Blue Hawaii in 1961 to Change of Habit in 1969), almost none of which fit into any other genre besides “Elvis Presley movies,” which are typically light comedies with musical interludes. Most had corresponding soundtrack albums, and when combined, the movies and the songs made him wealthy—despite almost ruining him as an artist of any type. Elvis Presley produced some of his best singles in the 1960s, including “It’s Now or Never (‘O Sole Mio’)” (1960), “Are You Lonesome Tonight? “, “Little Sister,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Return to Sender,” and “Viva Las Vegas,” which were either unrelated to the movies or only tangentially incorporated into them (1964). Presley was no longer a divisive character; instead, he had evolved into a cliched mass entertainer who was essentially of little interest to the rock audience, which had significantly increased as a result of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan’s introduction of their innovative sounds.
Elvis Presley had been overtaken by the changes in the music industry by 1968, as both movie and album sales had declined. His one-man Christmas TV spectacular, a masterwork of rock and roll and rhythm and blues, was broadcast in December, and it significantly increased his credibility. He released “Suspicious Minds,” a single without any connection to a movie, in 1969, and it quickly rose to the top of the charts. His audience was not nearly as diverse as it had been in the 1950s; it was primarily Southern and Midwestern, working-class and unsophisticated, and predominately female. He also started performing live again and rapidly gained a significant following. He was once again among the top live attractions in the United States for a large portion of the following decade. (He never gave a performance outside of North America for a number of reasons.) Presley was no longer an idol but rather a popular American entertainer. Without much fanfare, he wed in 1967, welcomed his daughter Lisa Marie into the world in 1968, and divorced in 1973. Despite the fact that Elvis Presley on Tour, a good concert film, existed, he stopped making movies. His records were of varying quality, but he included one or two songs with direction and vigour on each album. There were fewer hits; “Suspicious Minds,” his final number one, and “Burning Love,” his final Top Ten entry, both came in 1972. But he continued to make a lot of money because of the concerts, which writer Jon Landau called the pinnacle of American musical comedy. He no longer displayed the ambition and force of his earlier work, but it might have been for the best because he never came off as an outmoded throwback from the 1950s attempting to keep up with the times; rather, he was just a performer, unflinchingly himself.
But Elvis Presley also adopted a dangerous way of life. He lived nocturnally, surrounded by sycophants, full with greasy foods and a variety of prescription medicines at Graceland, his Memphis residence. Graceland was basically just a large Southern colonial house furnished somewhere between boring modernism and garish faux-Vegas splendour. In the latter two years of his life, his performances declined, and his recording career all but ceased. Presley appears to have become immobile as a result of his lack of self-assurance and uncertainty about whether he would avoid falling back into sharecropper poverty. The man who had risked everything, including potential ridicule, to become successful now followed the strict routine of an addict and recluse. Finally, he passed away from a heart attack in the summer of 1977, the night before he was to start yet another concert tour, largely as a result of drug misuse. At 42 years old, he.
Mourners from all around the world flocked at Graceland to bid farewell to the poor child who had lived out the American dream almost immediately after learning of his passing. Graceland continues to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the nation, and Elvis Presley’s CDs and other items continue to sell well, so in a way, the grieving has never ended. People gather in large numbers at Graceland every August to pay tribute to him on the anniversary of his passing. Rumors would occasionally surface claiming that he had faked his own death in order to escape fame and that he had not actually passed away. Numerous people perform as Elvis Presley. His most ardent supporters—working-class white women almost exclusively—transmitted their fanaticism to their offspring, or at the very least to a surprising number of females. Elvis Presley has left the building, but the people who are still there have made the decision to keep going. Elvis Presley is victorious once more, but this victory is overshadowed by something that is far from joyful.