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March 27, 2007

Yes, I was one of those! Elvis Presley was my idol – although I didn’t know that term at the time. I had pictures of him on my bedroom wall, I purchased every magazine, which featured him on the cover, and listened avidly to his music.

I first became aware of this good-looking singer when I was about 15 years old. American Bandstand was on TV every Saturday afternoon and I tried to never miss a program. It was live television at its’ best featuring popular singers of those times and watching the latest new dances by the lucky teens who were able to attend in person. Then my girlfriends and I would try to do them in our living rooms. That was so much fun! The fact that Elvis shook his hips the way he did was shameful to my parents and the rest of the older generation. As such there was much controversy about the propriety of teenagers watching him, in the press and society in general. We didn’t care! We just loved him!

An announcement was made that Elvis Presley would appear on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night. I couldn’t wait! At 8 pm I was glued to the TV set. My parents and brothers were also in the living room although I would have preferred having the set all to myself. A few acts were presented but who was interested in that stuff? All my friends and I wanted to see Elvis. Finally Ed Sullivan introduced him and there he was! I was so excited that I clearly remember having heart palpitations. Mom told me my eyes were sparkling, my cheeks were flushed, and apparently I heard nothing anyone said to me. I was totally captivated! Elvis began to sing but what was this? The cameras only showed him from the waist up… What a disappointment! The strong Catholic host, Ed Sullivan, had decided that Elvis’ fans should not be allowed to witness his trademark moves. Talk about censorship! Elvis’ singing did not disappoint. My three brothers and my parents had great fun watching my reactions. It was even more hilarious to tease me after the program about my love of Elvis! They were unmerciful!

My favourite songs at that time were;” Heartbreak Hotel”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love me Tender”. That last one was from the movie by the same name. Yes, Elvis turned to acting. Although I went to see most of his thirty movies (he sang in all of them!), even I had to admit that he was not much of an actor! The movies were simply vehicles to showcase Elvis’ singing.

Then a shocking press release informed us that Elvis Presley had been conscripted into the American Army! Oh no! His beautiful black hair was shaven and his signature sideburns disappeared. He looked very handsome in his uniform as most men do. Then more bad news…Elvis was being sent to Germany to serve. The crowds at the base from which he was sent to Europe were huge! The paparazzi were out in full force. Watching him kissing his mother goodbye brought tears to my eyes. With a final wave he was gone from sight up the gangplank of the troop ship along with the other soldiers who also had to go overseas. For the two years that Elvis was in Freiberg, Germany, his clever manager Colonel Tom Parker kept his photos appearing in magazines and on TV. Five singles were released during this time all of which became million sellers and topped the charts. We could not forget about Elvis Presley, his manager shrewdly made sure of that!

Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo Mississippi on January 8, 1935 to very poor parents Vernon and Gladys Presley. His identical twin brother had died at birth. Elvis remained an only child. As such he was the centre of his parents’ and extended family’s life. Church attendance was an integral part of the Presley’s lives. The church music and preaching made a deep influence on young Elvis’ life. At 12 years of age Elvis asked his parents for a bicycle but his parents could not afford it at the time so his mother talked him into accepting a guitar instead. Who knows whether Rock and Roll history might have been changed if he had received the bicycle instead? While in high school, Elvis entered a talent show and to his own amazement he won! The acceptance felt great to the nervous singer. After graduating from high school in June of 1953 Elvis worked at Parker Machinist Shop. One day he dropped by “The Memphis Recording Service and made a demo acetate of “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” which cost him $4.00. He presented it to his mother as a late birthday present. In January of 1954 he made another demo in the presence of owner Sam Phillips who was intrigued by this unusual looking young man with his unique sound. He invited Elvis Presley to return to his studio now called “Sun Studio” to record some songs he (Phillips) had in mind. He teamed him with Scotty Moore and Bill Black and together they sang, “That’s All Right” backed by “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. This became the first of five singles Elvis released on the SUN label. On October 16, 1954 the group appeared for the first time on the “Louisiana Hayride” a popular live radio program. After singing on this Saturday night program several more times, Elvis was signed to a 52-week contract. This was his big break! It was during this time that Elvis met Colonel Tom Parker who would be his manager until the singer’s death. In 1956 when Presley’s voice was heard on radio stations across Canada and the US, Elvis connected with youth everywhere. They saw him as epitomizing everything their parents feared that they would become. The rebelliousness appealed to the teens of the fifties. About this time the singer became known as the “King of Rock and Roll’ and was often referred to simply as “The King”. It was also that same year that Ed Sullivan, host of a popular TV variety show, told his audience that Elvis Presley would never be a guest on his program. However the singer’s popularity could not be ignored for long and Mr. Sullivan had to eat his words soon after. By this time Presley was an international sensation and so it was announced that the Sullivan Show had booked Elvis for three appearances for the unheard of sum of $50,000! However the program producers made the fateful decision to only show the controversial singer from the waist up to the consternation of his legions of fans. That only augmented Elvis’ popularity to unheard of heights. Elvis’ next TV appearance was in 1960 with Frank Sinatra who hosted a “Welcome Home Elvis” show to celebrate Elvis’ return from the army. For this program he was paid $125,000 setting another record.

Elvis had purchased Graceland Mansion in 1957 as a home for himself but also for his parents, grandmother, aunts and some cousins. It was not only his home but also his refuge for 20 years. Even today it is one of the most visited homes in America second only to the White House. I know that when I get to Memphis some day this home will certainly be a “must do”. In 1992, Graceland Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elvis Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu in 1967 and in February of 1968 his only child, a daughter Lisa Marie Presley was born. Unfortunately the marriage ended in divorce in 1973. After the divorce Priscilla was granted custody of the child who was 5 years old at the time. Soon after his divorce, reports began to surface of Elvis’ declining health and increasing weight gain. His concert tours were still extremely successful but off- stage his behaviour was becoming erratic and unpredictable causing his millions of fans to wonder what was happening to “The King”. Those fears were justified and Elvis Presley died at home on August 16, 1977. He was just 42 years old. Emotional reactions from around the world were reported by all news media. Radio and TV stations everywhere reported the unbelievable news. Alex and I happened to be in Toronto attending a convention when we heard the news. We quickly turned to a network which was broadcasting from outside the gates of Graceland where thousands of grieving fans were gathering along with hundreds of media personnel.

Elvis Presley’s funeral was a spectacle befitting the life he had lived. A brief religious service was conducted at the mansion. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 persons visited Graceland during the day, August 17, to pay their respects. Elvis’ body was placed in the foyer just inside the front door. It was the first time the mansion had been open to the public since Elvis had purchased the property in 1957 twenty years previously. His flower-draped casket was then placed into a white hearse, which was followed by a long cortege of white limousines carrying family members and his entourage. Two days later his father Vernon Presley expressed his gratitude to the fans’ expressions of sympathy from around the world. The King was dead but his popularity was unabated and sales of his records and movies reached unprecedented heights.

I still love his music and for our 25th Anniversary in 1988, Alex and I danced to “Love Me Tender” to the amusement of our daughters, my siblings and my parents.

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