Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls welcoming to the stage for his last performance of “The King’s Final Show” tour, the one, the only, the king of rock “n” roll… Elvis Presley.
It was June 26th, 1977, and Elvis had just walked onto the stage at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. It was his 55th show of the year and even though his health had been poor, millions across the country had come to see him.
Elvis would pass away a short time later at the age of 42. It devastated the music world that he had passed away at such an early age. To be known as the King of Rock “n” roll, you know Elvis has to have made a huge impact over his short lifetime.
Let’s go back to where it all started in 1935.
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. There he was raised by loving, working-class parents named Vernon and Gladys, who had very little money. Though money was always tight, Elvis grew up in a very close-knit family, made up of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all lived near one another in Tupelo.
But even with very little money Vernon and Gladys did their best to provide for their son, who was the center of their lives. As a child, Elvis attended the Assembly of God Church with his family, and the music and preaching meant a lot to him. Music played a huge role in Elvis’s childhood. Black blues players influenced him in his neighborhood and country music on the radio.
At age 10 Elvis stood on a chair and sang “Old Shep” into a microphone at a fair talent show. They broadcast the talent show over WELO Radio, and Elvis won the fifth prize. For his prize, Elvis received $5.00 in fair ride tickets!
At age 11, Elvis received his first guitar. He actually wanted a bike, but since his parents couldn’t afford it, his mother Gladys talked him into getting the guitar instead. The guitar cost $12.95. Two years later, Elvis sang the song “Leaf on a Tree” with his guitar for his Junior High class to say goodbye to all of his friends.
Soon afterward his parents packed their belongings in a trunk, strapped it to the roof of their car, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in search of a better life. Other members of the Presley family would follow shortly after. Elvis and his parents lived in the poor neighborhoods of north Memphis.
Life continued to be very hard for the Presley family. Vernon and Gladys had many jobs trying to make ends meet. In high school, Elvis worked at various jobs to help support himself and his parents. The Presley family remained close, and together they attended the Assembly of God Church.
As a teenager, Elvis continued to be known for singing with his guitar. He listened to all the black blues and gospel he could find. He also attended the all-night, white and black, gospel shows that are held downtown. He grew his hair long and slicked it back, and let his sideburns grow. He’s really different from the other kids, a good-natured misfit.
In high school, Elvis nervously sang with his guitar at a student talent show. Much to his own amazement, he got more applause than anyone else and won. That summer, he dropped by The Memphis Recording Service, and sang and recorded the songs “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” for a cost of about $4.00 as a birthday present for his mother, Gladys. This was the first time that Elvis met record producer Sam Philips.
In 1954, before his career in music took off, Elvis was a truck driver for the Crown Electric Company while attending night school where he studied to be an electrician. Late this same year Elvis received a call from Sam Phillips to come back to the studio to try singing a song Sam hoped to put out on record. A record is a big, black disc that people used to listen to music on. They sat it on a record player and it played the music back to them.
They recorded “Without You” but Sam didn’t like it. Sam asked him what he could sing, and Elvis ran through several popular songs. Elvis met a guitar player, Scotty, and a bass player, Bill, to form a band but nothing really clicked until July 5, 1954, when they played a song called “That’s All Right.” This song, backed with “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” became the first of five singles that Elvis recorded and released.
In the summer of 1954 Elvis, Scotty, and Bill started performing together, with Scotty acting as the group’s manager. Elvis continued to work as an electrician as the group played small clubs throughout the South. Elvis quit this job in October 1954 and focused solely on music. He appeared for the first time on the “Louisiana Hayride,” which was a live Saturday night, country music radio show. They broadcast the show over the radio, which is how people listened to music at the time
Elvis later signed a one-year contract for 52 Saturday night appearances, which was a big break but kept him from traveling outside of the South. In 1955 Elvis continued to tour with Scotty and Bill, this same year Drummer D. J. Fontana joined Elvis’ band just as Elvis was becoming more and more popular. Huge crowds showed up for his shows. Sometimes the police had to be called in to control the crowds. Elvis was very handsome and girls all around had crushes on him.
Elvis became more popular, and people all around the country knew about him. In 1955, Elvis signed his first contract with RCA Records for $40,000 which at the time was unheard of. A year later, when he was 21, Elvis recorded the song “Heartbreak Hotel”. It would be Elvis’ second Billboard #1 single.
The same year Elvis bought an expensive home for himself, his parents, and his grandmother to live in. The house, which became known as Graceland, is now a National Historic Landmark and over 500,000 people visit it each year.
Elvis appeared in concert for the first time outside of the US during 4 shows in Canada. Then he began filming his third movie “Jailhouse Rock” and later “Loving You.” Both were very popular.
Elvis served in the army for two years and lived in Germany. There he met Priscilla Beaulieu, who he would later marry in 1967. Just a few weeks after leaving the army, Elvis was back in the studio recording new music. After Elvis married Priscilla, their first child Lisa Marie Presley was born. They remained married for 6 years before divorcing in 1973.
Elvis continued to put out new music and films for much of his career. He made 31 films and released 23 studio albums with 4 of them becoming #1. he also released 18 soundtrack albums, 7 live albums, 2 spoken word albums, and 12 compilation albums.
Elvis won hundreds of awards for his music and films over the years and will remain forever known as the king of rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis has been inducted into five Halls of Fame: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country, Gospel, Rockabilly, and R&B. He has sold over one billion records worldwide!
Do you like to sing or play an instrument? If you haven’t yet, you should! Singing is a fun way to express yourself. You can start by singing along with a favorite song. And you can get better by practicing! Elvis practiced singing at church and with his family.
He learned the guitar by practicing. And then he performed in front of others! He was very nervous the first time, but he kept doing it and getting better and better! Like Elvis, try something new and practice. This is how everyone talented becomes very good at what they do.