In a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Aron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley on January 8, 1935. Elvis grew up as an only child as a result of his twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley, being stillborn. In 1948, the Presley family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee. Here, Elvis completed his high school education at Humes High School in 1953.
As a teen growing up in Memphis, Elvis was a member of a Pentecostal Church. The church played an integral part in influencing Elvis's musical style. As a youth, he would sometimes attend all-night gospel sings. Aside from the music of the church, Presley was also influenced by Rhythm and Blues music he heard on Beale Street in Memphis as a young man. The sounds of country and bluegrass music also played a part in molding Elvis's musical style.
Following graduation from high school, he took a job as a truck driver. Before long, Elvis was recording with the Memphis based record company, Sun records. His first demos were cut in 1953 and 1954 and caught the eye of Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun. Phillips had been in search of a white artist with connections to traditionally Black music in his style. Phillips placed Elvis with bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore, a combination which would produce Elvis's first single, a version of Arthur Crudup's song, "That's Alright Mama."
Elvis would go on to produce five singles for Sun, all of which were a new blend of Rhythm and Blues and Country Western music that would be the roots of a style referred to as Rockabilly. Sales of his records in the Memphis area were impressive, and interest soon spread throughout the Southern states. Soon, Presley, Moore and Black were on the road with a traveling show in which Elvis's gyrating hips caused an uproar, thus earning him the nickname "Elvis the Pelvis." At the time, Elvis' singing was so close to Rhythm and Blues that D.J.'s on the "white" radio stations in the South felt obligated to explain to listeners that he was white. Despite the controversy surrounding Elvis's provocative dance moves, the new performer attracted the attention of Colonel Tom Parker, who would become Elvis's manager. Late in 1955, Sam Phillips sold Elvis's contract, in order to bolster Sun's capital, to RCA Victor for $35,000.
"Heartbreak Hotel" was Presley's first single in 1956 with RCA as well as his first single that hit the top of the charts. Several national television appearances along with this number one hit made Elvis into an instant star. One of these appearances was on the Ed Sullivan Show, a variety show that was very popular at the time. The network censors were so concerned about his pelvic gyrations that the camera operators were instructed only to show him from the waist up. Despite that restriction, he came across as very sexy.
His television popularity was immense and he became a factor in a ratings battle between two of the most popular T.V. shows at the time. When Elvis appeared on the Steve Allen Show, the ratings surpassed those of The Ed Sullivan Show. Ed Sullivan responded to this by hiring Elvis for $50,000 to appear in three episodes of his show, an unheard of amount to those days.
A string of hits followed including "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You", "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog", which was originally recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton in 1953. Many of the songs Elvis performed were composed by songwriter Otis Blackwell, and the duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote the original "Hound Dog" for Thornton. At the time of these early hits with RCA, Black and Moore still played as Elvis's backup, although they would soon go their separate ways.
Elvis was soon moving on to more than just records and stage performances. In late 1956, he starred in his first Hollywood movie, "Love Me Tender." A number of movies were made with the titles derived from the titles of Elvis's songs such as "Jailhouse Rock", which was also a hit record. Although these movies were popular at the time, they never received the critical recognition as his music got, probably for good reasons.
In 1958, Elvis enlisted in the Army. Amazingly, Elvis had recorded enough material that his music continued to top the charts during his two-year absence. Upon his return in 1960, after spending a majority of his time in Germany, his popularity was still very high. Shortly after returning from the Army, Elvis made a career change and stopped giving live performances. For nearly a decade, Presley concentrated on his movie-making endeavors, often making two or three movies each year throughout the 1960's.
However, number one hits on the Billboard charts had began to dwindle during the 60's despite his still vigorous popularity. Elvis was eventually replaced by The Beatles, who were all Elvis fans, as the latest rock and roll phenomenon in 1964. Presley did experience a resurgence in hits in 1969 with numbers like "In the Ghetto" and "Suspicious Minds". It was also in 1969 that he returned again to live performance where he began with a series of shows in Las Vegas. In retrospect, the man much of the world refers to as "The King" of Rock and Roll had a very prolific and successful career.
During his lifetime he sold over 300 million albums and made 33 movies.Among his accomplishments are the gold, platinum or multi-platinum sales of 131 singles and albums, for which he holds the record among musicians. Elvis was the star of 31 box office films as well as two concert documentary films.
Presley was also not above charitable deeds. In 1961, a benefit concert held in Hawaii raised over $65,000 to assist in the construction of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, which was just one of his many benevolent acts.
Elvis died at the age of 42 of an apparent overdose of cocaine and barbiturates in his home at Graceland on August 16, 1977. A wide fan base still exists for "The King of Rock and Roll." There are over 625 fan clubs operating today around the world. Of course, there is much evidence of Elvis's following in the 600,000 visitors that flock to Graceland annually, not to mention the frequent Elvis sightings that season the tabloid papers.
Page author: N.G.