He was born in in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8th, 1935 as Elvis Aaron Presley, but he would go on to be known around the world simply by his first name - and would later assume the title given to him by the press and public as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Even though that royal title is associated with a life of luxury, Elvis was born into poverty and a shotgun shack. Only at the age of twenty-two and after a #1 record would this King find his castle, Graceland in Memphis.
Elvis grew up as an only child in Tupelo, but few know that he had a twin brother, Jessie Garon, who was stillborn. His parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley eventually moved to Memphis in 1948 in search of work, public housing would be home, but Elvis was never forced to drop out of school to help make ends meet and graduated from Humes High School in 1953.
The church is where Elvis first found music. Gospel was just one of many genres that would influence the career of the man who would help take rock ‘n’ roll music mainstream. Elvis’ musical influences also included country music along with the rhythm and blues of Beale Street bars and clubs found along the historic blues alley downtown Memphis.
It was July 5th, 1954 when an unknown Elvis Presley, who was working as a delivery truck driver at the time, walked into the legendary Sun Studio at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis for his first professional recording session. Studio and label owner Sam Phillips paired Elvis with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black for the session; together they increased the tempo and put a new spin on "That's All Right," a rhythm and blues tune originally performed by Arthur Crudup. The recording session was magical and the rest as they say is history. The song was released by the regional record label fourteen days later and played on the radio for the first time on Memphis’ WHBQ-AM where callers demanded DJ Dewey Phillips play the song again and again, resulting in the song repeating eight times in a row. The new rock ‘n’ roll sound was in high demand and in a matter of days, Elvis performed for the public for the first time in his professional career on July 30th at Memphis’ Overton Park Shell. The price of admission was $1.
After great debate, Sam Phillips sold Elvis’ recording contract to RCA Victor in the later months of 1955. With national distribution channels to sell his records to the masses, 1956 turned out to be a banner year for Elvis as America and the world saw the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. With a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred the social and racial barriers of the time, Elvis ushered in a new era of music and popular culture, and became an international singing sensation. Just as his rising star was taking off, without any of the special privileges his celebrity status might have afforded him, he honorably served his country in the U.S. Army from 1958 through 1960.
While his music changed popular culture, his movies were often times behind some of his biggest musical hits, such as “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Elvis starred in 33 successful films, it was said that the only sure thing in Hollywood was an Elvis film as it filled theaters and sold soundtrack albums. He also made history with his groundbreaking television specials including the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert, the world’s first satellite televised concert. It was seen in 40 countries by over 1 billion people. Elvis also drew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert performances on tour. His residency performances at Las Vegas’ International Hotel revolutionized live entertainment in a city primarily known for gambling and lounge acts, setting the stage for artists of today.
Globally, he has sold over one billion records and continues to sell to this day to new generations, routinely receiving gold, platinum and multi-platinum sales awards. Among his many awards and accolades were 14 GRAMMY® nominations with three wins for gospel recordings, the GRAMMY® Lifetime Achievement Award and his inclusion in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Gospel Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
His talent, good looks, sensuality, charisma, and good humor endeared him to millions, as did the humility and human kindness he demonstrated throughout his life. Adored by fans around the world, Elvis is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular culture.