MUSICAL ICON: ELVIS
In celebration of the legendary Elvis Presley,
Shake, Rattle and Roll your way to the Musical Instrument Museum.
“Elvis Presley is truly an iconic figure whose impact on music and culture in the 20th century is immeasurable,” says David Wegehaupt, Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) Associate Curator for USA, Canada and Europe. “While Elvis is in the building every day at MIM, the Musical Icons series gives us a chance to go deeper into ‘The King’s’ life and music, celebrating his career through lectures, film screenings, sing-alongs and more fun for the whole family.”
Above: Elvis Presley™; Rights of Publicity and Persona Rights: ABG EPE IP LLC. Photo courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. “Graceland.”
FROM TUPELO TO MEMPHIS
On January 8, 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. When he was 13, the family moved to Memphis. At school, he was shy and often bullied. Then, during his junior year, Presley began to stand out among his classmates, largely because of his appearance: he grew his sideburns and styled his hair with rose oil and Vaseline. In his free time he would head down to Beale Street, the heart of Memphis’ thriving blues scene, and gaze longingly at the wild, flashy clothes in the windows of Lansky Brothers. By his senior year, he was wearing those clothes. From Sun Studio where he made his first recording, Arcade Restaurant where he would eat, to Graceland, his former mansion-turned-museum, today Memphis is regarded as his hometown.
Above: After being spotted in Memphis, a young Elvis Presley signs autographs for fans.
Presley’s earliest musical influence came from gospel. His mother recalled that from the age of two, at the Assembly of God Church in Tupelo attended by the family, “he would slide down off my lap, run into the aisle and scramble up to the platform. There he would stand looking at the choir and trying to sing with them.”
As a teenager, Presley became well-informed about both white and African-American musical idioms. Though he never had any formal musical training, he was blessed with a remarkable memory and his musical knowledge was already considerable by the time he made his first professional recordings in 1954 at age 19. His encyclopedic understanding of the blues was legendary. By frequenting record stores that provided jukeboxes and listening booths to customers, Presley loved to listen to country and spiritual singers. A regular attendee at the monthly all-night gospel singings in downtown Memphis, where many of the white groups that performed reflected the influence of African-American, Presley broadened his expertise in this genre.
“THE KING’S” CAREER
After a short stint at Sun Records, Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” was released in January 1956 and instantly became a number-one hit. Many chart-toppers were to follow: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Burning Love,” “Don’t be Cruel,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” “Kentucky Rain” and “Always On My Mind” among others.
In November 1956, Presley made his film debut in Love Me Tender. Drafted into military service in 1958, Presley relaunched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work. He held few concerts however and, guided by his manager Colonel Tom Parker, proceeded to devote much of the 1960s to making soundtrack albums and Hollywood films including Jail House Rock, Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas.
Following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed television comeback special Elvis. Later known as the ’68 Comeback Special, the show aired on December 3, 1968 and featured lavishly staged studio productions as well as songs performed with a band in front of a small audience. The live segments saw Presley dressed in tight black leather, singing and playing guitar in an uninhibited style reminiscent of his early rock and roll days.
Seeing a star lose his footing and then make a triumphant comeback certainly attributed to some of the show’s success. But it was “The King’s” powerful voice, delicate phrasing, honest, emotional delivery and effortless body movements that captured almost an astounding 50-percent of the total viewing audience.
Rave reviews of the Comeback Special led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Presley gave the first concert by a solo artist to be broadcast around the world, Aloha From Hawaii.
Sadly, years of prescription drug abuse severely compromised his health, and “The King” died suddenly on August 16, 1977 in his Graceland estate at the age of 42.
Presley does not claim to have invented rock music – originally dubbed “black music,” categorized as part of the rhythm and blues genre. But he was a trailblazer of uptempo rockabilly, one of the earliest styles of rock and roll which fused country music with rhythm and blues.To his credit, right from the start Presley openly expressed his respect for black performers and their music, forming a link between black and white Americans at a time when segregation and racial prejudice was commonplace in the South.
Accompanying Presley’s rise to fame, a cultural shift was taking place that he both helped inspire and came to symbolize. Igniting the biggest pop craze since bandleader Glenn Miller and crooner Frank Sinatra, Presley brought rock and roll into the mainstream of popular culture.
Now 42 years after the iconic performer’s death—with 108 Billboard Hot 100 hits, 129 charted albums and 67 collective weeks at the top of the charts on his record—he remains the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music. Successful in many genres including pop, country, blues and gospel, he won three Grammys, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36 and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame.
Presley’s extraordinary voice, pioneering music, flamboyant style, good looks, reined-in sexuality and huge record sales secure his permanent status as a musical icon.
Above: Elvis Presley’s guitars and other memorabilia are on display in MIM’s Artist Gallery. Photo courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. “Graceland.”
THE MIM SCHEDULE
MIM guests are invited to view documentaries and film screenings, attend talks by scholars, explore tunes from “The King’s” movies, craft hip-swiveling Elvis stick puppets, play, sing and dance to Presley’s chart-topping hits and commemorate the day with a caricature drawn by local artist Dianne Nowicki.
Open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., the event schedule for August 10 and 11 is as follows;
Elvis Stick Puppet Craft, 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Known for his signature dance moves, “The King of Rock and Roll” made waves in American pop culture throughout the mid-twentieth century. Craft your own stick puppet with swiveling hips and make Elvis dance to some of his hit tunes.
Instrument Spotlight; Guitars, 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Celebrate Presley’s groundbreaking music by playing a few of his most memorable songs at the instrument spotlight table. Then check out some of his guitars displayed in MIM’s Artist Gallery.
Film Screening; This Is Elvis, 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. (Saturday only)
Elvis’ journey to fame took place during the rise of rock and roll. This 1981 documentary takes you from backstage to front row, following his performances around the world.
Film Screening; Elvis:That’s the Way It Is, 10:30 a.m.-noon (Sunday only)
Sure to make you fall in love with his music all over again, this 2001 remastered version of the iconic 1970 documentary explores Elvis’ triumphant return to live music performances after a long career in film acting.
Caricatures by She Draws You, 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Commemorate the day with a caricature. Have a whimsical portrait drawn by local artist Dianne Nowicki of She Draws You.
Scholar Talk; Elvis Presley: The Comeback King, 1:15 – 2:00 p.m.
Be sure to hear Mike Shellans, senior lecturer at Arizona State University’s School of Music, present his findings on three major musical events in Elvis Presley’s life: the 1960 Frank Sinatra Timex Special: Welcome Home, Elvis, the 1968 Comeback Special: Elvis, and the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite. Join Shellans for an exploration of Elvis’ personal and musical preparation for each of these “comeback” specials and the impact these shows had on Elvis and his fans worldwide.
Listen and Create; Elvis Play-Along, 2:15–3:00 p.m.
Play some Elvis tunes along with friends and family. Led by local music educator and Arizona State University doctoral candidate Austin Showen, this music-making session will be all about creating a community of Elvis fans by playing his music together—get ready to sing and dance along.
Curator Talk; Elvis: Songs for the Silver Screen, 3:15–4:00 p.m.
In Presley’s own vision of his acting career, he did not predict a lot of singing, saying in 1956, “I wouldn’t care too much about singing in the movies.” However, by the late 1960s, Elvis had recorded well over two hundred songs for the thirty-three movies he appeared in. Join Associate Curator David Wegehaupt to explore musical highlights from Elvis’ film career, an era which produced some of Presley’s biggest hits.
Elvis-Themed Extras Available for Purchase
During Café Allegro lunch hours, try the chef’s twist on down-home classics and sweet Southern treats.
At the Museum Store, shop all things Elvis including mugs, socks, lunchboxes, sippy cups, books, CDs, and more.
For more information, visit www.MIM.org