Biography of Elvis Presley - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

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LIVE FROM GRACELAND: ELVIS WEEK 2007

Biography of Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley was born in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, the second of identical twins.  His brother was stillborn and given the names Jesse Garon.

Elvis grew up as an only child.  At school, he was teased by his fellow classmates because he was different and quiet.

At age 10, Elvis made his first public performance in a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, the young Elvis had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone and sang Red Foley's "Old Shep". He won second prize.

In 1946, Presley was taken to Tupelo Hardware where he was bought a guitar - a $7.90 birthday present.  Two years later, the Presleys moved to Memphis.  In 1949, they lived at Lauderdale Courts - a public housing development - in one of Memphis' poorer sections. Presley practiced guitar playing in the basement laundry room and also played in a five-piece band with other tenants.

Presley attended L. C. Humes High school and occasionally worked evenings to boost the family income. He began to grow his sideburns longer and dress in the wild, flashy clothes of Lansky Brothers on Beale Street.

After graduation, Presley was still a rather shy person, a "kid who had spent scarcely a night away from home.  For a time he worked driving a truck for the Crown Electric Company. He began wearing his hair longer with a 'ducktail' - the style of truck drivers at that time.

On July 18, 1953, Presley went to the Memphis Recording Service at the Sun Record Company.  He paid $3.98 to record the first of two double-sided 'demo' acetates - "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin." Presley reportedly gave the acetate to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present, though the Presleys didn't own a record player at the time. Returning to Sun Studios on January 4, 1954, he recorded a second acetate, "I'll Never Stand in Your Way"/ "It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You."

Sun Records founder Sam Phillips had already cut the first records by blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf and Junior Parker, and thought a combination of black blues and boogie-woogie music might become very popular among white people - if presented in the right way.

Phillips had acquired a demo record - "Without Love (There Is Nothing)". Unable to identify the demo's vocalist, his assistant Marion Keisker reminded him about the young truck driver and she called him on June 26, 1954. Presley was teamed up with local Western swing musicians Winfield "Scotty" Moore and Bill Black.  During a break at the studios on July 5, 1954, Presley began "acting the fool" with Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)", a blues song. When the other two musicians joined in, Phillips got them to restart and began recording. This was the bright, upbeat sound he had been looking out for.

To gauge professional and public reaction, Phillips took several acetates of the session to DJ Dewey Phillips at Memphis radio station WHBQ.  "That's All Right" subsequently received its first play. A week later, Sun had received some 6000 advanced orders for "That's All Right"/ "Blue Moon of Kentucky", which was released on July 19, 1954.

Presley's sound was proving hard to categorize - he had been billed or labeled in the media as "The King of Western Bop", "The Hillbilly Cat," and "The Memphis Flash". On August 15, 1955, he was signed to a one-year contract with "Hank Snow Attractions", a company owned by Hank Snow and "Colonel" Tom Parker. Parker became Presley's manager thereafter.

Several major record labels showed interest in signing Presley. On November 21, 1955, Parker and Phillips negotiated a deal with RCA Victor Records to acquire Presley's Sun contract for an unprecedented $35,000.

To increase the singer's exposure, Parker finally Presley to television. He had the singer booked for six of the Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show, beginning January 28, 1956, when he was introduced by Cleveland DJ Bill Randle. Parker also obtained a lucrative deal with Milton Berle for two appearances.

On January 27, Presley's first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel", was released. By April it reached number one in the U.S. and would sell a million copies. On March 23, RCA released the first Presley album: Elvis Presley. As with the Sun recordings, the majority of the tracks were songs by or from country artists.

Presley's first Ed Sullivan appearance in September 1956 was seen by an estimated 55 to 60 million viewers. During his second appearance, Presley only had to shake his legs to get screams from the audience, which a bemused Sullivan didn't notice him doing when stood next to the singer. On the third show, the family-minded Sullivan censored Presley's "gyrations": he was shown only above the waist.

Presley's record sales would become enormous throughout the late 1950s, with hits like "All Shook Up", "(Let me Be Your) Teddy Bear" and "I Need Your Love Tonight." Meanwhile "Jailhouse Rock", "Loving You" (both 1957), and "King Creole" (1958) were released and are regarded as the best of his early films.

On December 20, 1957, Presley received his army draft notice. Presley joined the 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor. He had chosen not to receive any special treatment and was respected for not joining 'Special Services', which would have allowed him to avoid certain duties and maintain his public profile. His service still received massive media coverage, with much speculation echoing Presley's own concerns about his enforced absence doing irreparable damage to his career. However, early in 1958, RCA producer Steve Sholes and Hill and Range "song searcher" Freddy Bienstock had both pushed for recording sessions and strong song material, the aim being to release regular hit singles during Presley's two-year hiatus. The hit singles - and six albums - duly followed during that period.

As Presley's fame grew, his mother - who had always liked alcohol - began to gain weight and drink excessively. Doctors diagnosed hepatitis. Her condition worsened and Presley was granted emergency leave in August of 1958. Shortly after his return to Fort Chaffee, his mother died at age 46. Presley was distraught, and he grieved for days.

Presley returned to the U.S. on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant on March 5. Recording sessions in March and April yielded some of his best-selling songs - including "It's Now or Never." Although some tracks were uptempo, none could be described as "rock and roll". Most found their way on to an album - "Elvis is Back!"

When Presley returned from the army, he was eager to continue his acting.  His manager, with an eye on long-term earnings, negotiated a multi-picture seven-year contract with Hal Wallis.  The films were usually musicals and further marked his transition from rock and roll rebel to all-round family entertainer. Presley's movies were popular, and were the only chance to see him in the absence of live appearances, especially outside of the U.S.

Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu on May 1, 1967 in Las Vegas. A daughter, Lisa Marie, was born exactly nine months later.

Presley was one of the highest paid actors during the sixties, but musical tastes were changing.  A new generation of bands like Jefferson Airplane, The Greatful Dead, the Doors, and others became popular as Presley's popularity waned.

A Presley special on NBC, later dubbed the '68 Comeback Special, aired December 3, 1968. The show featured lavish production numbers - not dissimilar to those in his movies. It also included segments from live sessions that saw him clad in black leather and performing in an uninhibited style, reminiscent of his rock and roll days. Presley was extremely nervous about recording live, but Rolling Stone called it "a performance of emotional grandeur and historical resonance."  Buoyed by the experience, Presley recorded the albums "From Elvis in Memphis" and "From Memphis To Vegas, From Vegas To Memphis," the former considered to be one of the best of his career.

1969 saw Presley making record-breaking appearances in Las Vegas. He later toured across the U.S. and had a stream of sold-out shows, performing 1,145 concerts between 1969 to 1977, with many setting venue attendance records. He also had hits in the singles charts of many countries. However, Presley's song repertoire was criticized, showing he was still distant from any current trends within pop and rock music.

MGM filmed him in Las Vegas for a 1970 documentary: "Elvis: That’s The Way It Is.: As he toured, more gold record awards followed. MGM filmed other shows for Elvis On Tour, which won a Golden Globe for Best Documentary, 1972. A fourteen-date tour started with an unprecedented four consecutive sold-out shows at Madison Square Gardens, New York. After the tour, Presley released the 1972 single "Burning Love" - his last top ten hit in the U.S. pop charts.

1973, Presley had two January shows in Hawaii. The second was broadcast live around the world. The "Aloha from Hawaii" concert was the first to be broadcast via satellite and reached at least a billion viewers. The show's album went to number one and spent a year in the charts.

Off stage, Presley and his wife Priscilla had continuing marriage difficulties. In spite of his own infidelity, Presley was furious when he learned that his wife was having an affair with a mutual acquaintance - Mike Stone, a karate instructor. The Presleys separated on February 23, 1972, agreeing to share custody of their daughter.

Divorcing in 1973, Presley became increasingly isolated and overweight, with prescription drugs - apparently prescribed with little question - taking their toll on his health, mood and his stage act.  Despite this, Presley was still capable of critically acclaimed performances.  He continued to play to sell-out crowds and release hit records; a 1975 tour ended with a concert in Michigan, attended by over 62,000 fans.

Almost throughout the 1970s, RCA had been increasingly concerned about making money from Elvis Presley material: they often had to rely on live recordings because of problems getting him to attend studio sessions. RCA's mobile studio was occasionally dispatched to "Graceland" in the hope of capturing an inspired vocal performance. Once in a studio, his interest was sometimes lacking and he was easily distracted. Much of this behavior has been linked to the enduring problems of his health and pill taking.

Presley's final performance was in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977. 

On August 16, 1977, Presley was found on the floor of his bathroom by fiancée, Ginger Alden. According to the medical investigator, Presley had "stumbled or crawled several feet before he died." He was officially pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Presley's funeral was a national media event. Hundreds of thousands of fans, the press, and celebrities lined the streets hoping to see the open casket in Graceland or to witness the funeral. Amongst the mourners were Ann-Margret and his ex-wife. U.S. President Jimmy Carter issued a statement.  Presley was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis next to his mother.  After an attempt to steal the body, his and his mother's remains were reburied at "Graceland" in the Meditation Gardens.


Sources: Elvis.com; Wikipedia
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