Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977), also known as The king of Rock and Roll, or as just simply The King, was an American singer who had an effect on world culture rivaled only by The Beatles and Chuck Berry. He started his career under the name The Hillbilly Cat and was soon nicknamed Elvis the Pelvis because of his sexually suggestive performance style.
Birth & Childhood
Presley was born in a one-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Vernon Elvis Presley and Gladys Love Smith Presley. He was raised both in Tupelo and later in Memphis, Tennessee, where his family moved when he was 13. He had a twin brother (Jesse Garon Presley) who died at birth. They would move to Lauderdale Courts public housing development in 1949. It was here where Elvis would be near Memphis music and cultural influences like Beale Street, Ellis Auditorium, Poplar Tunes record store with Sun Studio about a mile away. The young Elvis took up guitar at 11 and would practice in the basement laundry room at Lauderdale Courts. He would play gigs in the malls and courtyards of the Courts with other musicians that lived there. After high school he worked at Precision Tool Company and then drove a truck for the Crown Electric Company.
Scottish author Allan Morrison claims that Elvis was of Scottish descent. In an as-yet-unpublished book, Morrison claims to have found that his ancestors lived in Lonmay, Aberdeenshire in the 1700s. According to Morrison, records show that Andrew Presley married Elspeth Leg in Lonmay in 1713. Their son, also called Andrew, went to the English colonies in 1745.
In the summer of 1953 he paid $4 to record the first of two double-sided demo acetates at Sun Studios. The demo consisted of "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," popular ballads of the time. While Presley claimed to have recorded the demo as a birthday present for his mother, this is probably untrue, since Gladys Presley's birthday was in April and he recorded the acetate in July. Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and assistant Marion Keisker heard the discs and, recognizing Presley's nascent talent, called him in June 1954 to fill in for a missing ballad singer. Although the session did not prove fruitful, Sam put Elvis together with local musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black to see what might develop. During a rehearsal break on July 5, 1954, Elvis started fooling around with a song called "That's All Right" and Sam hit the record button, thinking Elvis may have found his niche. The resulting single, backed with Elvis' hopped-up version of the country song "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", was a huge local hit in Memphis after WHBQ aired it two days later, and regular touring started to expand his fame beyond Tennessee.
Elvis published five singles while under contract with Sun, all credited to Elvis Presley:
- "That's All Right" / "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" – Sun 209, released on July 19, 1954
- "Good Rockin' Tonight" / "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine" – Sun 210, released on September 25, 1954
- "Milkcow Blues Boogie" / "You're A Heartbreaker" – Sun 215, released on December 28, 1954
- "Baby Let's Play House" / "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" – Sun 217, released April 10, 1955
- "Mystery Train" / "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" – Sun 223, released on August 6, 1955
These singles garnered Elvis increasing attention both for his music and for the rioting girls that were becoming a staple of his live performances. The last of the Sun singles, "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" b/w "Mystery Train", went to #1 on the Country music Singles chart. During this period Elvis toured incessantly throughout the south and southwest, also appearing 50 times on the regional show Louisiana Hayride (his first appearance was on March 3, 1955). Hayride founder and producer Horace Logan had shrewdly signed Elvis to weekly appearances after noting the audience reaction to the then-unknown singer. It was during Elvis' last appearance on the Hayride that Logan announced, "Elvis has left the building", desperate to quell the screaming teenagers trying to reach Elvis as he exited the stage. The phrase has been popularized and is commonly used in joking reference to many, often unimportant, events being over as if they were as popular as an Elvis concert.
Elvis signed with RCA Records on November 21, 1955. On January 27, 1956 the single "Heartbreak Hotel" / "I Was the One" was released. It was the sixth single of his career. Unlike the previous singles, this one did chart, reaching #1 in April 1956.
Over the next twenty-one years, until his death in 1977, Elvis had 146 Hot 100 hits, 112 top 40 hits, 72 top 20 hits and 40 top 10 hits; all of these are the most anyone has yet achieved. "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog" topped the pop, black and country charts in 1956. A string of hit records followed as the public's desire for his product seemed insatiable.
The 1960s saw the quality of Presley's recorded output drop, although he was still capable of creating records equal to his best and did so on the infrequent occasions where he was presented with decent material at his movie recording sessions. With this drop-off, and in the face of the social upheaval of the 1960s and the British Invasion spearheaded by The Beatles, Presley's star faded slightly before a triumphant TV comeback special on NBC (aired on December 3, 1968) that saw him return to his rock and roll roots. His 1969 return to live performances, first in Las Vegas and then across the country, was noted for the constant stream of sold-out shows, with many setting attendance records in the venues where he performed.
His most successful concert was the Elvis Aloha Concert in Hawaii, which was broadcast worldwide via satellite in January 1973. It was a milestone for Presley's career and his biggest audience to date.
Presley was deeply religious, raised in the Pentecostal faith. He recorded several gospel albums. His three Grammy awards are all for gospel music. In his later years, his live stage performances almost always included a rendition of "How Great Thou Art."
Film & Television
Elvis on TV
On January 28, 1956 Presley made his national television debut by appearing on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, beginning his transition to teen idol. Now recording for RCA, and under the management of (honorary) Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time on February 22 with "Heartbreak Hotel" and on April 21 that year the same song hit number one. His June 5, 1956 introduction of his next single, "Hound Dog", on The Milton Berle Show, scandalized the audience with his suggestive hip movements. After a string of other TV appearances, he made his first appearance on the top-rated Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, earning the show a record 52–60 million viewers (82.6% of viewership that night). Presley had dyed his sandy blond hair jet black by the time of his second Sullivan performance on October 28 of the same year. On his third and final Sullivan appearance (January 6, 1957) Sullivan bowed to pressure from "moralists" and ordered Presley to be filmed only from the waist up due to his customary suggestive hip movements.
In late 1955, Presley made his earliest known film appearance in a documentary entitled The Pied Piper of Cleveland, a look at the career of disk jockey Bill Randle. The film, which reportedly included performance footage of Elvis as well as Bill Haley and His Comets and other acts, was shown in its entirety only once (in Cleveland) and was never released commercially. The film is currently considered "misplaced" and some Presley researchers maintain it never existed, although there is ample evidence to suggest it did.
Beginning with Love Me Tender (opened on November 15, 1956), Presley starred in 31 motion pictures, having signed to multiple long-term contracts on the advice of his manager. These were usually musicals based around Presley performances, and marked the beginning of his transition from rebellious rock and roller to all-round family entertainer. Elvis was praised by all his directors, including the highly respected Michael Curtiz, as unfailingly polite and extremely hardworking.
The movies Jailhouse Rock (1957), King Creole (1958), and Flaming Star (1960) are widely regarded as his best among film critics. Among fans, Blue Hawaii (1961) and Viva Las Vegas (1964) are highly praised.
Between 1956 and 1969, Presley starred in 31 films. For details, see the List of Elvis Presley films.
On January 20, 1958 Presley received a draft notice for a 2-year duty with the United States Army. He received no special treatment and served in Germany as an ordinary soldier and was honorably discharged on March 5, 1960. Many have since wondered why an only child – by then the sole support of his parents and grandmother – was drafted during peacetime, since his services were clearly not critical for the defense of his country. It has long been suspected that Elvis' draft notice was either politically instigated to shunt his "dangerous", "race-mixing" influence, or encouraged by his manager in order to keep the increasingly world-wise Southern lad under his thumb. While in the army, he received a black belt in karate and attained the rank of Sergeant.
While in the army, Elvis became sick. He was taken to an army hospital and diagnosed with tonsillitis. However, no doctor would perform the necessary tonsillectomy, fearing that they would, in some way, be responsible for ruining his voice. His tonsils were left in, and he eventually grew better nevertheless.
From the beginning of his career, Elvis was a sex symbol who sent legions of women swooning. He had a string of girlfriends, before and after he became famous, including celebrities such as Mamie Van Doren, Natalie Wood, Tuesday Weld, Cybill Shepherd and Ann-Margret.
On May 1, 1967 he married Priscilla Anne Beaulieu at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Priscilla had been the step-daughter of Presley's commanding officer in Germany during his Army stint. Incredibly, Elvis managed to talk Priscilla's mother and step-father into allowing the underaged girl to live with him at Graceland. In her autobiography, Priscilla recounted how Elvis would stay up all night and sleep most of the day; if he wanted to go out, he'd rent out the venue so no fans would bother him. Although he would spend hours alone with her in her bedroom, Priscilla wrote that Elvis never made any advances toward her. Indeed, their wedding night was the first time they were intimate; their daughter, Lisa Marie, was born exactly nine months later on February 1, 1968. After their divorce in 1973, Lisa lived with Priscilla.
Elvis: The Hollywood Years, a 2002 biography by David Bret, claims The King was gay. Bret, who has made a career on sensationalized claims of homosexuality of deceased male celebrities, says Colonel Tom Parker "held secret information about a homosexual affair between Elvis and actor Nick Adams over his head like a sword. He made it clear that... if Elvis didn't toe the line, he'd let it get out. At that time, it could well have ruined his career. That is why Parker had so much control over him." According to Bret, many journalists' attempts to "out" Elvis in the past were thwarted by his manager. In her book The Intimate Life and Death of Elvis, Dee Presley, The King's stepmother, who published an unfavorable article in the National Enquirer, also says that Elvis had sexual encounters with men and mentions his affair with Nick Adams. In addition, Judy Spreckels, who was like a sister to Elvis, a companion, confidante and keeper of secrets in the early days of his career, remembers going out with Elvis and his friend Nick Adams. Despite these accusations, just about every other author, writing in the vein of the worldwide Elvis industry which has a tendency toward supporting only a 'favorable' view of The King, believes that Elvis was heterosexual.
After seven years off the top of the charts, Presley's song "Suspicious Minds" hit No. 1 on the Billboard music charts on November 1, 1969. This was the last time any song by Presley hit #1 while he was still alive, although "Burning Love" got as high as #2 in September 1972. The mid-1970s saw Elvis becoming increasingly isolated, battling an addiction to prescription drugs and the resulting toll on his appearance, health and performances. Elvis made his last live concert appearance in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977.
Death and burial
He died at his home Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee on August 16 , 1977. He was found on the floor of his bedroom's bathroom ensuite by girlfriend Ginger Alden who had been asleep in his bed. He was transported to Baptist Memorial Hospital where doctors pronounced him dead at 3.30pm. He was only 42 years old.
Presley was originally buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis next to his mother but after an attempted theft of his body, his and his mother's remains were moved to Graceland.
Numerous examinations of his death by medical personnel have resulted in a final public cause of death; the cause was, in fact, a heart attack, most likely due to lifestyle and his documented extreme misuse of prescription drugs. According to popular legend, however, Elvis did not die in 1977, and may continue to be alive (see Elvis sightings).
His international influence
Elvis Presley spawned rock and roll interest in Europe; his name was even known by people behind the then-Iron Curtain. Presley paved the way for other American rockers whose records sold in Europe and who began to tour there. Teenagers around the world began copying his "Ducktail" hair style, and the demand for transistor radios exploded so much so that Sony went from a small Japanese telecommunications company making radios to a giant global conglomerate. And, through his new look with black slacks and loose open-necked shirts, he created a huge demand for new lines of clothing. Presley's influence created a generation of teenagers who, for the first time, became an economic powerhouse through their spending capacity. Also, there are a number of Elvis impersonators worldwide.
In 1977 President Carter was quoted to say "Elvis Presley's death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture. His following was immense and he was a symbol to people the world over, of the vitality, rebelliousness, and good humor of his country. Or as James Brown once put it, 'he taught white America to get down.'"
Now, more than 25 years after his death, Presley remains a foremost pop icon of the 20th century. His image, especially his trademark forelock, is instantly recognizable. He is still the gold standard against which modern notions of fame are measured. At least one modern recording artist, Elvis Costello, borrowed Presley's first name to help his fledgling career.
But all too often Elvis Presley's kitsch appeal and the industry which has grown up around it, chronicling his dietary and chemical predilections and the trappings of his celebrity, have tended to obscure the vibrant and vital music he made as a young man, the vocally-influential recordings of his later career, and the lasting influence both he and his music had on popular culture. Connected with this is a continuing urban myth that Elvis is still alive. "Elvis sightings", in which Presley is reported to have been located (frequently in mundane and out-of-the-way places, such as a supermarket in South Dakota), are common events, and one of the staples of supermarket tabloids.
However, interest in his music returned during the buildup to the 2002 World Cup, when Nike used a Junkie XL remixed version of his "A Little Less Conversation" (credited as Elvis Vs JXL) as the background music to a series of TV commercials featuring international soccer stars. The remix hit Number 1 in over 20 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia (it was also his first top 10 hit in the UK for nearly 22 years, and his first #1 there for nearly 25 years). At about the same time, a compilation of Presley's US Number 1 hits, ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits, was being prepared for release. "A Little Less Conversation" (remix version) was quickly added as the album's 31st track just before its release in October 2002. Nearly 50 years after Presley made his first hit record and 25 years after his death, ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits reached number 1 on the charts in the US, the UK, Australia and many other countries. A re-release from the album, "Burning Love" (not a remix) also made the Australian top 40 later in the year.
His renewed fame continued with another remix in 2003 (this time by Paul Oakenfold) of "Rubberneckin'", which made the top 3 in Australia and top 5 in the UK. This was followed by another album called 2nd to None, a collection of his hits that just missed out on the number 1 spot, including the "Rubberneckin'" remix.
In mid-2004, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Presley's first professional recording, "That's All Right", the recording in question was re-released, and made the charts around the world, including top 3 in the UK and top 40 in Australia.
In early 2005 in the United Kingdom, RCA began to re-issue his 18 UK #1 singles as CD-singles in the order they were originally released, one of them a week. The first of these re-issues, "All Shook Up", was ineligible due to its being sold together with a collector's box which holds all 18 singles in it (it actually sold enough to be #2). The second of these re-releases, "Jailhouse Rock", was the number one in the first chart of 2005, and "One Night"/"I Got Stung", the third re-release in the series, replaced it on the January 16 chart (and thus becoming the 1000th UK number one). All of these have reached top 5 in the official charts, with three number 1s, eight number 2s, four number 3s, one number 4, and one number 5.
These re-releases are breaking many chart records there, making Elvis the only artist so far to spend at least 1000 weeks in the top 40 (coincidently, he broke this record on the week he held the 1000th UK #1 song), and also having the most songs in the top 40 in any chart week, but they have also made him break the record for the biggest drops from the top 5 positions ever.
Among his many accomplishments, Elvis Presley is only one of two singers (Roy Orbison being the other) to ever have two Top 5 albums on the charts simultaneously. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1998), and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2001). In 1993, Presley's image appeared on a United States postage stamp.
Note: The Presley family, including Elvis, spelled his middle name "Aron" throughout his life, although Elvis is said to have considered changing it to "Aaron". His birth certificate and tombstone both read "Aaron".
A Life-sized bronze statue of "Elvis at 13" was unveiled in Tupelo Mississippi 8th January 2002, adding to the growing number of bronze statues of Elvis Presley.
Tupelo's fifth Elvis Presley Festival takes place early June 2005. The 28th Anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, on the 16th August 2005, is sure to be big news following the massive amount of media interest recently in the CBS TV miniseries, "Elvis" starring Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the legendary singer.
To read more about that, click here.
During his lifetime, Elvis Presley:
- recorded 104 singles that hit the Top 40 of the Billboard pop chart.
- had 18 number 1 Billboard hits, including four singles in 1956 that occupied the top of the charts for a cumulative total of 25 weeks. The total (18) is surpassed only by The Beatles, who had 20 number 1 hits.
- had 38 Top 10 Billboard hits. This total is currently unchallenged; the closest competitor, Madonna, has 35. (The Beatles had 34 Top 10 hits during their career.)
Until the record was broken by Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" in November 1992, Elvis Presley's double-side "Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog" was the undisputed champion of singles in terms of weeks spent at number one. The record spent 11 weeks at the top starting on August 18, 1956.
These are other records set by Presley's recordings:
- From March 1956 to November 1959, every week there was at least one Elvis song on the singles chart.
- From 1956 to 1962 Elvis set the record with 24 consecutive top 5 hit singles (singles listed with B-side songs and original U.S.A. release dates):
- "Heartbreak Hotel" / "I Was the One" – released 1/27/56
- "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" / "My Baby Left Me" – 5/4/56
- "Don't Be Cruel" / "Hound Dog" – 7/13/56
- "Love Me Tender" / "Any Way You Want Me" – 9/28/56
- "Too Much" / "Playing For Keeps" – 1/4/57
- "All Shook Up" / "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" – 3/22/57
- "Teddy Bear" / "Loving You" – 6/11/57
- "Jailhouse Rock" / "Treat Me Nice" – 9/24/57
- "Don't" / "I Beg Of You" – 1/7/58
- Elvis also charted 9 consecutive #1 singles:
- "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck" / "Doncha' Think It's Time" – 4/1/58 (the first single to debut on the chart in the top 10)
- "Hard Headed Woman" / "Don't Ask Me Why" – 6/10/58
- "One Night" / "I Got Stung" – 10/21/58
- "A Fool Such As I" / "I Need Your Love Tonight" – 3/10/59
- "A Big Hunk O' Love" / "My Wish Came True" – 6/23/59
- "Stuck On You" / "Fame And Fortune" – 3/23/60
- "It's Now Or Never" / "A Mess Of Blues" – 7/5/60
- "Are You Lonesome Tonight" / "I Gotta Know" – 11/1/60
- "Surrender" / "Lonely Man" – 2/7/61
- "I Feel So Bad" / "Wild In The Country" – 5/2/61
- "His Latest Flame" / "Little Sister" – 8/8/61
- "Can't Help Falling In Love" / "Rock-A-Hula Baby" – 11/22/61
- "Good Luck Charm" / "Anything That's Part Of You" – 2/27/62
- "She's Not You" / "Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello" – 7/14/62
- "Return To Sender" / "Where Do You Come From" – 10/2/62
All the above 24 singles also sold over 1 million copies each as well. That is another record yet to be broken.
Also, on the official United Kingdom Top 40 chart, "It's Now Or Never" reached number one in the week of Sunday, January 30, 2005, 27 years after Presley's death.
Helen Kolaoke (2002) criticizes Elvis' music saying that, "for black people, Elvis, more than any other performer, epitomises the theft of their music and dance." Others argue that Elvis' music is not an appropriation but a proliferation of black music. (Frith 2004, p.21). It also must be stated that most of Elvis's number ones were written for Elvis or not previously recorded by any other artist.
"The Book Of Rock Lists" also argues that his music owes just as much, if not more to white Country music, than Black blues music.
For a detailed discography, see Elvis Presley discography
For a list of Elvis' singles, see Elvis Presley hit singles
Some notable compilation albums
- Elvis' Golden Records Vol.1 (1958)
- 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong (1959
- Elvis' Golden Records Vol.2 (1960)
- Elvis' Golden Records Vol.3 (1964)
- Worldwide Hits (1970)
- A Legendary Performer (1974)
- 40 Greatest (1975)
- The Sun Sessions (1976)
- Elvis Presley – Greatest Hits (1975 – 5 Album Box Set)
- Elvis In Demand (1977)
- Hits of the '70s (1977)
- Love Songs (1979)
- Ballads (1985)
- All Time Greatest Hits (1987)
- The Essential Collection (1993)
- Elv1s : 30 #1 Hits (2002)
Elvis Presley made only one television commercial, an ad for Southern Maid Doughnuts that ran in 1954.
- Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii (1973) (TV) $450,000
- Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970) $500,000 + 60% of profits
- Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) $225,000 + 50% of profits
- Tickle Me (1965) $750,000
- Girl Happy (1965) $500,000 + 50% of profits
- Viva Las Vegas (1964) $500,000 + 50% of profits
- Fun in Acapulco (1963) $500,000 + 50% of profits
- It Happened at the World's Fair (1963) $500,000 + 50% of profits
- Follow That Dream (1962) $500,000 + 50% of profits
- Blue Hawaii (1961) $175,000
- G.I. Blues (1960) $175,000 + % of gross
- Frank Sinatra's Welcome Home Party for Elvis Presley (1960) (TV) $125,000
- Jailhouse Rock (1957) $250,000
- Loving You (1957) $150,000
- Love Me Tender (1956) $100,000
- Elvis was the only man from Northeast Mississippi who could shake his hips and still be loved by rednecks, cops, and hippies.
- When I first heard Elvis' voice, I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody, and nobody was going to be my boss. He is the deity supreme of rock and roll religion as it exists in today's form. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.---I thank God for Elvis Presley."
- Don't blame it on Elvis, for shakin' his pelvis
- Shakin' the pelvis been in style way back since the River Nile
- The Fabulous McClevertys, calypso singers, 1957
- Before Elvis, there was nothing
- Before Elvis, everything was in black and white. Then came Elvis. Zoom, glorious Technicolor.
- Elvis-A-Rama Museum
- Elvis impersonator
- Elvis sightings
- Elvis Presley's Sun recordings
- List of songs about or referencing Elvis Presley
- 24-Hour Church of Elvis
- Washburne, Christopher J. and Derno, Maiken (eds.) (2004). Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415943663.
- Frith, Simon. "What is Bad Music".
- The official Elvis Presley website by Elvis Presley Enterprise.
- The Elvis Information Network – News, Reviews, Interviews & Articles. Updated daily – An Award winning website.
- Lauderdale Courts: Historic Home of Elvis 1949–1953History on teenage home and reservation/tour information.
- History and Lyrics Insight on Elvis
- Elvis Presley at the Internet Movie Database
- Sockin' Swingin' Girls & Singin' Fansite dedicated to the films of Elvis Presley
- FBI Freedom of Information Act files on Elvis: http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/presley.htm
- The Elvis Presley Lyrics Page
- Always The King: Elvis fansite in German and English.
- ElvisNews: Updated several times a day, this website gives you a summary of every Elvis-related news around the world.
- Elvis Aron Presley: Fansite.
- BBC News article on Elvis Presley's Scottish roots
- Elvis in Hawaii: Information about the Aloha from Hawaii show (1973) and the Hawaiian movies.
- Elvis Presley: The King on Hotshotdigital.com
- Elvis In Norway: A very good source for news and reviews of new CD releases, both official and bootlegs.
- Elvis Presley – The Early Years Emphasis on Elvis' career in the '50s and '60s
- Elvis Tribute: Elvis fan stories, song poll, Elvis fanaticism test