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A Comprehensive History of Elvis Presley's Dynamic Life

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When you hear the name “Elvis”, what do you think? Many people, including myself, instantly thing about Elvis Presley. He is a worldwide phenomenon who will be known for decades, all because of the impact he had on his generation. Elvis has sold over one billion records, won three Grammy Awards, has had eighteen songs reach number one, and was “one of the first performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986). His mansion, Graceland, is the second most-visited house in America, only being beat by the White House. Elvis is still talked about everyday among not only Memphians, but also people from all over the globe. Elvis Presley is one of the most famous singers of all time.

Elvis Presley was born January 8th, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. Tupelo, Mississippi is south of Memphis, Tennessee and certainly lesser known. Many people think that Elvis was born and raised in Memphis, but he moved to Memphis in 1948 when he was in the eighth grade. He and his family lived in downtown boarding houses for most of that year, proving how poor they were. “Elvis grew up a loved and precious child. He was, everyone agreed, unusually close to his mother”. This quote is important in explaining why Elvis acted the way he did with women he was close to, including Priscilla Presley and Linda Thompson.

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When Elvis was two years old his uncle Gains became a preacher at a church named Assembly of God Church. “Many in the tiny congregation later recalled a very young Elvis Presley throwing himself into the hymn singing with abandon” . This was the start of Presley’s love and admiration for music. In fact, in an interview from 1965, Elvis said “I sang some with my folks in the Assembly of God Church choir [but] it was a small church, so you couldn’t sing too loud” . This is an example of Elvis relaying back to his childhood, as he often did. Eventually, in 1954, Elvis found his was to Sun Records label in Memphis. In 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor and by 1956, he was internationally known and became a superstar. Shortly after recording at Sun Studios, Elvis performed at a few local venues in Memphis such as Overton Park and the Bon Air Club.

On January 10, 1956, Elvis recorded his first songs in Nashville. He had may musicians to help fill out the sound, including Bill Black, Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana, pianist Floyd Cramer, guitarist Chet Atkins, and three background singers. This session produced the moody song “Heartbreak Hotel”, released on January 27th. Shortly after, Elvis’s manager, Colonel Parker brought him on national television for the country to get a feel of his personality and charisma. This was an overwhelming, yet monumental moment for Elvis’s career and personal life. This was when he was first heard and seen by music lovers and admiring young women in the United States. He was on his way to become one of the most influential singers of all time.

Shortly after his first television debut, Elvis recorded more hit songs in New York City. Those sessions created ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘My Baby Left Me’, ‘One-sided Love Affair’, ‘So Glad You’re Mine’, ‘I’m Gonna sit Right Down and Cry over You’, ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’, ‘Tutti Fruitti’, and ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’. The only hit single from these recordings was ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, yet these were important recordings because they marked when Elvis moved away from his pure, innocent sound to a more mainstream popular style that was envisioned by RCA. To this day, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ is very popular and Carl Perkins’s cover was even inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Elvis performed on the Milton Berle show his second time on June 5th, 1956. This was a monumental performance because of the song “Hound Dog” that instantly became a huge hit. It was a controversial performance because of the way that Elvis danced, which appalled parents and excited teen girls everywhere. The movement of his hips gave him the nickname ‘Elvis the Pelvis’. “Jack Gould of The New York Times declared, ‘Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability’, while John Crosby of the New York Herald Tribune called Elvis ‘unspeakably untalented and vulgar’. It seems like the only reason these two people critiqued Elvis in this negative light is because he was going outside of the norm that people were used to, and he was going against their conservative values. This was around the time that parents began to worry about how their children, specifically their daughters, would be affected by such a “provocative” influence. Over a week after the performance, Milton Berle called Colonel Parker to tell him that he had a ‘star on his hands’. Berle told him this because of all the hundreds of letters from new fans and critics. Shortly after, on ‘The Steve Allen Show’, Elvis went for a more formal and appropriate look by wearing a tuxedo. He embarrassingly sang ‘Hound Dog’ to a basset hound named Sherman. Fans felt sorry for Elvis because it seemed as though he was forced to perform something demeaning but he later insisted that he was in on the gag and found it hilarious. On December 4th, 1956, Elvis, Johny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis met at Sun Studios for an impromptu session that was known as the Million Dollar Quartet. After his twenty-second birthday, Elvis recorded ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ which went on to be number one for eight weeks on Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1956. “The record was number one for seventeen weeks on the Billboard Country Chart and reached number three on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues Chart. In 2006, more than fifty years after its initial release, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ returned to number one on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales Chart when re-released” (Troedson). This is another indicator of just how famous and influential Elvis Presley is and always will be. It is very difficult to even get on any Billboard Chart but being number one is a huge accomplishment, especially fifty years after a song has been released.

Graceland is the one house, besides The White House, that everyone in Memphis knows about. Before Elvis, the house was owned by a musician named Ruth Marie. On March 17th, 1957, Elvis’s parents initiated the meeting with real estate agent Virginia Roberts, to which she immediately responded and set up an appointment for that day. A deposit was accepted and a down payment was made that day costing $90,000. A few days later, Elvis joined his parents in touring Graceland which on a little over thirteen acres and was ten miles south of downtown Memphis, near Whitehaven. “Elvis surveyed the property for a few minutes, then baptized the house by playing some Rock n’ Roll at a piano”(Troedson). This is a perfect way to describe Elvis’ personality and flair. Only a real rockstar would ‘baptize’ a house by performing music. Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother moved into Graceland in April of 1957. A feature of the property that was added after it was purchased was the Music Gates. These were designed for Elvis by a local company and feature musical symbols. This is an important piece of Graceland because it is one of the first things visitors see. A room that was added on later was The Jungle Room and it is historical because it is where Elvis recorded sixteen songs and two of them, Moody Blue and Way Down became hits. The second floor of the house contains Elvis’s bedroom, his office, his dressing room, and Lisa Marie’s bedroom. Sadly, this is the area where Elvis passed away. In the 1960’s, an extra wing was added onto Graceland to house his trophies, awards, jewelry, famous outfits, and guitars. On August 16th, 1977, Elvis collapsed on the second floor of his home due to a heart failure and was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead. This shocked people all over the world and false stories ae still told as to how he passed away and where he was. Later, on June 7th, 1982, Graceland became open to the public for the first time. Each year, an average of about 600,000 people visit Graceland. It is the second most visited house in the United States, with The White House taking a close first place. If Elvis Presley was not one of the most influential singers in the world, people would not care at all about traveling from thousands of miles away to visit his house.

Although Elvis is mostly known for his singing abilities and hit songs, he also has appeared in over thirty movies. For years, he was one of the top paid movie stars and the top movies he was in were Jailhouse Rock, released in 1957, and King Creole, released in 1958. Elvis even sang songs for soundtracks in movies. “The soundtrack for G.I. Blues (1960) was number one on the Billboard Top 100 album chart for 111 weeks. The album for Blue Hawaii was number one for twenty weeks and was on the chart for 79 weeks” (Troedson). These chart numbers are incredibly impressive and prove that no matter what the context is, Elvis’s voice is admired by all different types of people. He was not only successful in the United States, but also in other countries. His album ‘His Hand in Mine’ reached number three in Great Britain which is highly impressive for a gospel album. In February of 1961, after singing in two shows for Memphis charities, Elvis was presented with a plaque for reaching worldwide sales of over seventy-five million records.

Later, seven years after they met, Elvis and Priscila Presley got married on May 1st, 1967. In 1968, their daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, was born. During this time, Elvis’s career was not doing well and seemed to hit a plateau. However, during Christmas time of 1968, Elvis did a comeback show. It was called the ‘’68 Comeback Special’ and it featured Elvis performing with a small band. This was Elvis’s first television performance since 1961 and it reached very good ratings. It was NBC’s highest rated show of the season and forty-two percent of people watching their television, viewed it. Going back to Memphis roots, Elvis released an album titled, ‘From Elvis to Memphis’, which was a big success and it had more of a pop style that was ‘in’ at the time. These accomplishments of Elvis are very rare for people in the entertainment industry. For a vast majority of entertainers, after being somewhat obscure and less successful for a-number-of years, they would never be able to make a comeback. Elvis Presley had the charisma and charm that allowed him to bring in a large audience no matter what happened. He could take a break for however long he would have liked and still be as popular as ever. This is more proof of how Elvis is one of the most influential singers of all time.

On December 21st, 1970, Elvis met President Richard Nixon and told him about his distaste toward the recent hippie culture that was raging in the country. Elvis also took shots at The Beatles, saying that they were anti-American, which was odd because he seemed to previously have a good relationship with them. Regardless of what was discussed, it was monumental for Elvis to meet the President which further proves how influential he was. In 1971, Elvis was name of the ‘Ten Most Outstanding Young Men of the Nation’ by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce. Afterwards, a stretch of Highway 51 in Memphis was renamed ‘Elvis Presley Boulevard’. Also in 1971, “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”(Troedson). It would be impossible to be rewarded with this achievement award without carrying any influence in the country. If Elvis was unpopular or not well-liked, he would not have been given such a prestigious honor of recognition at that level.

Sadly, Elvis Aaron Presley passed away on August 16th, 1967, at Graceland. He was only forty-two years old when he died but he accomplished more in those years than most people accomplish in double the lifetime. A billion of his records were sold, more than any other artist’s records ever, and he has earned gold and gold-platinum for his hit songs. He has been presented with awards from numerous countries, including Norway, Japan, Australia, England, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, South Africa, Yugoslavia, Canada, France, and the Netherlands. He was successful in these countries even though none of his songs were ever recorded or remade in different languages. One of Elvis’s television specials, titled, ‘Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii, via Satellite, was seen by over one billion people viewing across forty countries. This is still, to this day, the most watched program on television. Elvis gave to many charities during his lifetime, even though this was lesser known. There is even a charity made in his honor, called, ‘Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation’. Over five hundred million postal stamps were printed with Elvis’ face on them. That is three times the amount that is usually printed for commemorative stamps. That alone, is a mega indicator of Elvis’ influence, even years after he died. This excerpt from the article I have quoted the most in this paper clears up any doubt one may have about Elvis’ popularity: “Currently, there are 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 visitors are age 35 and under” (Troedson). In conclusion, Elvis is without a doubt one of the most influential singers of all time. He reached a massive audience from all over the globe and young people know just as much about him as older people. He has made Memphis proud and will continue to be recognized and influential for eternity.

Elvis Presley certainly has competition who may also be considered influential and very famous. Johnny Cash would be a good example of a singer who experienced fame and notoriety during and after his life. He won several Grammy’s, had top-charting albums, and was even honored at the Kennedy Center. Although he was and is very famous and talented, Cash still does not have the same notoriety and cultural impact as Elvis. It is not very common for people to impersonate Johnny Cash or for him to be mentioned in the media. He does not have a home that receives over half a million visitors annually, or a chapel in Las Vegas that centers around him. Examples of other performers who have a similar amount of fame as Elvis are The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Michael Jackson. All these performers became popular after Elvis became well-known, but while he was alive. The Beatles would probably be the only musical group that is more famous than Presley. They created a new type of music that changed their generation and future ones. They are different from Elvis because they are a group, not just one person. They also created a totally different genre of music than what Elvis produced. Elvis is just as famous as The Beatles because of his individuality. It took a group of people to create The Beatles, but Elvis was always by himself, but had just as much influence.

Although Elvis had many supporters and people who rallied behind him, he also faced many harsh critics. His infamous Hound Dog performance on Merton Berle was critiqued by older people and parents of teenagers because they viewed it as provocative and inappropriate. There are also people who think that Presley’s style was racially insensitive. An African American singer who was very similar to Elvis was Chuck Barry. He was relevant around the same time as Elvis and was influenced by him. He and Presley shared very similar styles and were both pioneers of rock n’ roll. People were angry that Elvis seemed to steal the spotlight and received all the fame and recognition even though Chuck Berry was doing the same thing. I do not believe that any of this was Elvis’s fault because Berry was the one who was influenced by him, not the other way around. It is the fault of people who only appreciate white performers, even when African American ones are doing the same, if not better. Still, there are many African Americans fans who heavily voice their admiration for Elvis. Now, millennials are more apprehensive to appreciating Elvis because of the racism stigma he holds. This does not phase his heavy fan base who have stuck by him throughout his fame. 

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