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Elvis! Where Are You?

Elvis Research Topic

Elvis Presley Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Unless you are well over the age of 40, you probably don’t remember when Elvis died. I remember exactly where I was when I found out about the death of “The King.” I had been hired, along with my cousin Ricky, to clean out the inside of an old Ben Franklin store in downtown Russellville, Kentucky. Part of that job was to smash through concrete blocks with sledgehammers, which we did with glee. When I got home, my mom was in the kitchen fixing dinner, and the first thing she said to me was: “Elvis Presley died today.” I remember being stunned, standing silently for a few moments, then saying something like, “No way.” I turned on the TV and waited for the 5:30 CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Sure enough, that was the lead story that night…the death of Elvis. I also recall glancing into the kitchen to confirm what Mom had already told me. I could see that my mom was wiping a tear with the back of her hand, and I never knew whether her tears were for Elvis or on account of the onions she was slicing.

Wednesday, August 16th, marks the 40th anniversary of the death of one of the icons of American music. It is difficult now, in the 21st century, to understand the impact that Elvis had on American music and culture. Many of the most well-known musical artists from the 1950s to the 1980s and beyond were influenced in some way by Presley. You doubt me? Read some of these quotes:

  • Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century.” – Leonard Bernstein
  • Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.” – Bob Dylan
  • It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.” – Bruce Springsteen
  • I would practice Elvis in front of the mirror when I was twelve or thirteen years old.” – K.D. Lang
  • Elvis Presley is like the ‘Big Bang’ of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It all came from there.” – Bono of U2
  • It was Elvis that got me interested in music.” – Elton John
  • Elvis is iconic; a lot of performers today look to that for inspiration.” – Beyonce
  • I doubt very much if The Beatles would have happened if it was not for Elvis.” – Paul McCartney

By now, the story of Elvis’ rise from poor kid in Tupelo, Mississippi, to “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and his tragic death from prescription drug abuse is well known. Sadly, some people’s exposure to Elvis might be the spate of really bad movies and soundtracks he cranked out or the many Las Vegas shows he did in the 1970s, but to get a grasp of the “real Elvis,” one has to listen to some of his recordings from the mid-to-late 1950s and early 1960s where Presley was producing some very innovative music indeed.

Elvis' Graceland in Memphis, TN

Graceland via Wikimedia Commons Photo by Jan Kronsell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Elvis purchased Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1957. It was a former church that had been converted into a 23-room mansion. He lived there for the rest of his life. I’ve been to Graceland twice, once in the mid-1980s and again in 2001. Sure, it can be kind of schmaltzy and cheesy, but there is a lot of good music history to experience in Memphis (Beale Street, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and Sun Records Studio). In the end, I came away from Graceland both times a bit sad thinking about what was and what might have been.

Elvis was born in 1935. He died when he was just 42. Today, had he lived, he would be in his 80s. Like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe who went before him, it is hard to imagine an 80-year-old Elvis Presley.

This August would be a good opportunity for music teachers, or even history teachers with a keen interest in pop culture, to use the resources in eLibrary to introduce your students to the musical and cultural influence of “The King.”

And, as John Lennon of The Beatles noted, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”

Let others know about some of your Elvis or Graceland memories. You can tweet us using #ProQuest.

Just some of the many eLibrary articles and videos about Elvis:

The Day Elvis Died Atlanta Journal and Constitution (Newspaper)

Elvis Presley American Cultural Leaders (Reference Book)

Elvis Presley Is Drafted into the Army MPI Video

Elvis Presley Marries Priscilla MPI Video

Elvis: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Reluctant Rebel History Today (Magazine)

Stuck on Elvis: Elvis Presley: Perceptions and Legacy The World & I (Magazine)

A Few More Quotes:

  • I saw Elvis live in ’54. It was at the Big D Jamboree in Dallas and the first thing, he came out and spit on the stage…it affected me exactly the same way as when I first saw that David Lynch film. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it to.” – Roy Orbison
  • But the [record] that really turned me on, like an explosion one night, listening to Radio Luxembourg on my little radio when I was supposed to be in bed and asleep, was “Heartbreak Hotel.” That was the stunner. I’d never heard it before, or anything like it. I’d never heard of Elvis before. It was almost as if I’d been waiting for it to happen. When I woke up the next day I was a different guy.” – Keith Richards
  • I’m sitting in the drive-through and I’ve got my three girls in the back and this station comes on and it’s playing “Jailhouse Rock,” the original version, and my girls are jumping up and down, going nuts. I’m looking around at them and they’ve heard Dad’s music all the time and I don’t see that out of them.”  – Garth Brooks
  • If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.” – Johnny Carson

 

10 Things About the King

Elvis Presley rose from humble beginnings to become the ‘King of Rock and Roll.’ He remains an international pop culture icon almost 40 years after his death. On the eve of his 81st birthday, here are 10 things you may or may not know about Elvis:

Elvis Presley's Birthplace, Tupelo, Mississippi

Elvis Presley’s Birthplace, Tupelo, Mississippi [public domain]
Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive via Library of Congress

1. Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi to Gladys Love (Smith) and Vernon Elvis Presley. He had a stillborn identical twin brother, named Jessie Garon.

2. Presley, who never received formal music training or learned to read music, studied and played by ear. He identified the Pentecostal church as his primary source of musical training.

3. When he was 13 years old, he and his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. His music career began there in 1954, when he recorded a song with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records.

Sun Records Studio, Memphis, Tennessee

Sun Records Studio, Memphis, Tennessee [public domain]
by Carol M. Highsmith via Library of Congress

4. In December of 1957, Elvis was drafted into the U.S. Army. Three girls from Montana wrote a letter to President Eisenhower in which they begged him not to give Elvis a G.I. haircut and cut off his sideburns.

5. While he was in the Army and stationed in Germany, he met 14-year-old Priscilla Ann Beaulieu. They married eight years later, on May 1, 1967, at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.

6. Elvis is the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music, selling more than 1 billion recordings worldwide.

7. His only child Lisa Marie Presley was born on February 1, 1968. Ironically, the daughter of the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ was briefly married to Michael Jackson, the ‘King of Pop.’

Richard M. Nixon Shaking Hands with Entertainer Elvis Presley in the Oval Office

Richard M. Nixon Shaking Hands with Entertainer Elvis Presley in the Oval Office
[public domain] via White House Photo Office/National Archives and Records Service

8. On December 21, 1970, Presley visited President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. The photo of Nixon and Elvis shaking hands in the White House is the most-requested image in the holdings of the National Archives.

Visitors Pass by the Presleys' Graves--Graceland (Elvis Presley Mansion)

Visitors Pass by the Presleys’ Graves–Graceland (Elvis Presley Mansion)
by Adam Jones on Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0

9. Elvis died at age 42 at his Memphis home on August 16, 1977. Elvis bought the mansion named Graceland in 1957 for $100,000. It was opened for tours in 1982, and since then an average of 500,000 visitors pay tribute annually.

10. Elvis was buried twice. Elvis was originally placed in a crypt next to his mother, Gladys, at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis. Shortly after, several young men attempted to steal his remains. His father Vernon then decided to move both bodies to the grounds of Graceland. He received special permission from city officials to do so, and they both rest there today.

To learn more about Elvis Presley’s life, music, legacy, and his lasting influence on American culture, visit ProQuest’s eLibrary Research Topic page, or one of these editorially selected websites, available on SIRS WebSelect:

Elvis Presley

One Life: Echoes of Elvis

When Nixon Met Elvis