July’s Star of the Month: Elvis Presley
By Annette Bochenek, Ph.D.
Hometowns to Hollywood is an ongoing series exploring the roots and legacies of Hollywood’s Golden Age stars.
Still the “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley is well remembered as a music legend. In addition to being a cultural icon, his performances on the stage as well as the screen exemplified his unique performance style and his ability to captivate audiences all over the world.
Born Elvis Aaron Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, he would develop a strong love of music by the time his family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, in his preteen years. Initially, his interest in music began at church and stayed with him as he began elementary school. In first grade, he placed fifth in his school’s singing contest. Later, he would receive a guitar on his birthday, and began lessons, though he was initially shy about performing. By the time he started middle school, he brought his guitar to school daily, playing and singing during lunch.
In 1948, his family moved to Memphis. There, Presley began to cultivate a distinct image, which often was the cause for bullying by his classmates. Nonetheless, he maintained his sideburns and hairstyle while becoming enraptured by the Memphis blues scene.
Presley’s professional music career began at Sun Records in 1954 with a notable single pressed that featured “That’s All Right” as well as “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Two years later, his single, “Heartbreak Hotel” would become a number-one hit in the United States, paving the way for many more chart-topping records and newfound status as a symbol of rock and roll.
His 1956 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was seen by a record 60 million viewers, during which Presley performed “Love Me Tender.” The appearance made Presley a national celebrity and secured one million advance orders of the single. Presley brought about a shift in pop culture that celebrated the influence of rock’n’roll.
In the same year, Presley would make his film debut in Love Me Tender (1956). After being drafted and serving in the military, Presley resumed his recording career as well as his film career, including releases of Blue Hawaii (1961), Kissin’ Cousins (1964), Viva Las Vegas (1964). As his film career waned, Presley worked on a televised comeback special, which led him to concert residency in Las Vegas as well as numerous successful tours.
Tragically, Presley passed away in 1977 at his Graceland home due to years of prescription drug use taking a toll on his health. He was 42 years old and buried on the Graceland grounds.
Of course, there are several tributes to Presley all over the world. Due to the breadth of tributes to him, this article will focus upon tributes to Presley that focus upon his early life and career.
Presley’s birthplace is now a historic museum site, marked with a plaque. It stands at 306 Elvis Presley Dr. in Tupelo, Mississippi. The Mississippi Blues Train marker commemorating Presley is also located on the same grounds.
Presley’s royalties from “Heartbreak Hotel” allowed for the purchase for a new family home, which still stands at 1034 Audubon Dr. in Memphis, Tennessee.
Sun Studio is marked with a plaque at 706 Union Ave. in Memphis. One of the original microphones that Presley used also remains.
Presley’s Graceland home also stands at Elvis Presley Blvd in Memphis, remaining a global point of interest to Elvis fans.
Though Presley’s life ended far too soon, his legacy continues to be celebrated through his fans as well as through his long list of creative output.
Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a professor, film historian, and scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.