Elvis Presley’s birthday comes around at the beginning of the year on January 8. Despite many people telling him he could not hold a tune, he became one of the most popular singers and performers. Many Americans pilgrimage to Graceland, his former estate in Memphis, to celebrate the man and his life.
Elvis Aron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. His identical twin brother was delivered 35 minutes before him, stillborn. In high school, Presley received a C in music. When his music teacher told him he had no aptitude for singing, he brought in his guitar and sang his recent hit, Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me. A classmate later recalled that the teacher agreed that Elvis was right when he said that she didn’t appreciate his kind of singing.
In August 1953, Presley paid for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate as a gift for his mother, with slight hopes of being discovered. Presley cut a second acetate in 1954, but nothing came of it. Not long after, he failed an audition for a local vocal quartet and a professional band, with both telling him he had no future in singing.
Sam Phillips, a Sun Records producer who had taken an interest when Elvis recorded his first acetate, was looking for a white man who could bring black music to a broader audience. He brought Elvis in to record Jimmy Sweeney’s ballad Without You but found himself unable to do it justice. Phillips asked Presley to sing as many numbers as he knew and was affected enough to invite two musicians to work something up for a session. In a moment of unwinding and messing around, Presley took his guitar and started to play a blues song while jumping and dancing. The bassist, Bill Black, and guitarist Winfield “Scotty” Moore began dancing and playing with him. Phillips, who was to leave, stuck his head back in and asked,
“What are you doing?”
“We don’t know!”
“Well, back up… and do it again.” Phillips began taping their session. This was the sound he was looking for.
Elvis Presley is born into a poor family in Mississippi.
Elvis is gifted his first guitar by his parents on his 11th birthday.
Elvis and his group perform their first live show.
Elvis signs his first contract with RCA Records.
Elvis records his first music album in Nashville, including the hit single ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’
Elvis stars in “Love Me Tender” by Paramount Pictures.
Elvis marries Priscilla Presley, and the duo remain married until 1973.
Lisa Marie Presley is born in Memphis.
Elvis receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Elvis passes away at his home in Graceland.
Why Elvis matters
The face of early rock
Elvis was a bridge between the early blues-based rock pioneered by African American artists and rock 'n' roll for a broader audience. While he often covered African American artists — some would say appropriated them — he ushered in the beginning of the rock explosion in America.
He broke the rules
Prior to Elvis, the American moral police set the tone for how music and culture was consumed in America, particularly by young people. Elvis brought out the screaming youth, especially young women, and pushed back against the authority structure of the culture.
There's life after death
Few American figures are still part of the cultural landscape this long after their deaths. Elvis is still talked about and his life (and death) debated. His music and movies remain influential. And, according to some, he may still be walking the earth somewhere.
Elvis's Five Best Films: He Made Some Bad Ones, But Some Good Ones Too
Love Me Tender
While not the lead, Elvis's appearance in Love Me Tender stands out in this post-Civil War drama.
The lightweight musical comedy was perfect for Elvis in the lead role.
A bit campy, but a risk for Elvis as he played a character who had committed murder.
In this classic, Elvis plays a singer who finds overnight success in a New Orleans nightclub but also trouble with a notorious gangster played by Walter Matthau.
Elvis on Tour
This 1972 documentary film -- made just five years before his death -- is an inside look into the singer's showmanship and ability to dazzle his audience.
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