There are very few people who can be recognized globally by their first name. Elvis was one of them. Elvis had a presence. You felt him even when you couldn’t see him, and on his 42nd death anniversary that falls on August 16, VERUS FERREIRA, our music correspondent, visits Graceland to pay him a fitting tribute.
Elvis Presley’s Graceland was always on my bucket list, and I was privileged to visit the place when friends, Renuka Rose and Marc Taube, invited me for a holiday to their home in Cleveland. I jumped at the offer, especially when they said we could visit Graceland.
Well-stocked for the jaunt in a four-wheel drive Toyota SUV, we headed on to Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis. It was here that Elvis Aaron Presley was born on 8 January 1935. Presley was supposed to be a twin, but his brother, Jesse was stillborn. Elvis was raised by parents Gladys and Vernon Presley who took up small jobs to keep the home fires burning. Elvis was deeply devoted to his parents, especially his mother, and was raised to have a strong faith in God. Presley attended the Assembly of God Church with his parents, where gospel music became an important influence for him. Noticing his love for music, Elvis received his first guitar as a gift from his mother on his eleventh birthday. It’s hard to believe how humble Elvis really was and how great a star he went on to become.
The home where Elvis grew up has a shack that has an outhouse; one full room for the family to sleep that has Elvis’ bed and a small kitchen. The lady in the house answered questions about how Elvis’ father bought the house. It is a really peaceful, contemplative place to be. It is far more appropriate and prettier than Graceland, for those who want to remember Elvis quietly.
In 1948, the family moved to Memphis and it was here that Elvis had his first taste of musical success when he won a talent show at Humes High School in Memphis. After graduating in 1953, he began working as a truck driver to pay his way into the Memphis Recording Services Studio to get studio time.
He cut his first demo record at what later came to be known as Sun Studio. He sang the song My Happiness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin and before long, Sam Phillips, the record label owner, decided to sign on the young singer. He got his first break with That’s All Right, Mama which was his first single in 1954. Soon enough, the hits came rolling in for Elvis.
Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, Don’t be Cruel, All Shook Up, Jailhouse Rock, Teddy Bear, It’s Now Or Never among many others put him in everyone’s heart. His impact on American culture was stupendous, as he seemed to have an effect on the manner of dressing, hairstyles, and even behaviour, which many copied. His spinning movements on stage became legendary. His stardom got him 136 gold records and 10 platinum records. He was the top recording artiste for two straight decades, the 50s and 60s. Elvis received 14 Grammy nominations and won three wins for Gospel recordings — the album How Great Thou Art (1967), He Touched Me (1972) and his live Memphis concert recording of the song How Great Thou Art (1974).