Elvis Aaron Presley, in the humblest of circumstances, was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn, leaving Elvis to grow up as an only child. He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1948, and Elvis graduated from Humes High School there in 1953. Elvis? musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager.
In 1954, he began his singing career with the legendary Sun Records label in Memphis. In late 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor. By 1956, he was an international sensation. With a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time, he ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture. He starred in 33 successful films, made history with his television appearances and specials, and knew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert performances on tour and in Las Vegas.
Globally, he has sold over one billion records, more than any other artist. His American sales have earned him gold, platinum or multi-platinum awards for 131 different albums and singles, far more than any other artist. Among his many awards and accolades were 14 Grammy nominations (3 wins) from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received at age 36, and his being named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 by the United States Jaycees.
Without any of the special privileges his celebrity status might have afforded him, he honorably served his country in the U. S. Army. 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. Known the world over by his first name, he is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular culture. Elvis died at his Memphis home, Graceland, on August 16, 1977. It’s estimated that Elvis Presley has sold over one billion record units worldwide, more than anyone in record industry history.
In America alone, Elvis has had 131 different albums and singles that have been certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with more certifications expected as research into his past record sales continues and as current sales go on. Research is also underway to document his record sales achievements in other countries. It is estimated that 40% of Elvis’ total record sales have been outside the United States. Elvis Presley’s trophy room at Graceland is filled with gold and platinum records and awards of all kinds from around the world.
Some of the countries represented are: Norway, Yugoslavia, Japan, Australia, South Africa, England, Sweden, Germany, France, Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It is interesting to note that, except for a handful of movie soundtrack songs, Elvis did not record in other languages, and, except for five shows in three Canadian cities in 1957, he did not perform in concert outside the United States. Still, his recordings and films enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, popularity all over the globe, and he is known throughout the world by his first name.
Elvis has had no less than 149 songs to appear on Billboard’s Hot 100 Pop Chart in America. Of these, 114 were in the top forty, 40 were in the top ten, and 18 went to number one. His number one singles spent a total of 80 weeks at number one. He has also had over 90 charted albums with nine of them reaching number one. These figures are only for the pop charts, and only in America. He was also a leading artist in the American country, R&B, and gospel fields, and his chart success in other countries was substantial.
In 1956, Elvis made his network television debut with the first of his six appearances on Stage Show, a weekly variety program hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. He followed these with two appearances on The Milton Berle Show, the second of which included a performance of Hound Dog that was so provocative (for that time, anyway) that it caused a national scandal. Elvis next appeared on The Steve Allen Show, with Allen mocking the sensation of the Berle appearance by having Elvis dress in a tuxedo, eliminate his usual physical gyrations, and sing Hound Dog to a Basset Hound.
Ed Sullivan had once said he would never have the controversial singer on his top-rated show, but that was before the week that Elvis? appearance on Steve Allen had surpassed Sullivan’s ratings. Sullivan paid Elvis $50,000 to make three appearances on his show, which was, at the time, more money than any performer had ever been paid to appear on a network variety program. When Elvis made his third Sullivan appearance in January of 1957, Ed Sullivan surprised Elvis by telling him on camera that his show had never had a better experience with a name act, and said ?
I wanted to say to Elvis and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy.? It was on this very same Sullivan appearance that Elvis was shown on camera from the waist up only, one of early television history’s most memorable moments. Elvis? next network television appearance was in 1960, when Frank Sinatra gave his variety show a ? Welcome Home, Elvis? theme to herald Elvis? return from the army. Elvis was paid $125,000 to appear – again, making history. Elvis starred in 31 feature films as an actor and two theatrically released concert documentary films, all of which enjoyed financial success.
For a number of years he was one of Hollywood’s top box office draws and one of its highest-paid actors. His two most critically acclaimed films, Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) have become classics of their era. His movies and concert films enjoy a healthy life today in television syndication and home video sales and rentals. Some of his top-selling music came from his movies. Eleven of his movie soundtrack albums went to the top ten, and of those, four went to number one. The soundtrack for G. I.
Blues (1960), was number one on the Billboard Top 100 album chart for 10 weeks and remained on the chart for 111 weeks. The album from Blue Hawaii was number one for 20 weeks and was on the chart for 79 weeks. Elvis Presley’s three network television specials – Elvis (1968) , Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii, via Satellite (1973), and Elvis in Concert (1977) – stand among the most highly rated specials of their time. His 1968 special, Elvis , is one of the most critically acclaimed music specials of all time. His 1973 special, Elvis – Aloha from Hawaii, via Satellite, was seen in 40 countries by 1 billion to 1. billion people and made television history. It was seen on television in more American homes than man’s first walk on the moon. When Elvis returned to the live stage after the success of his 1968 television special and the wrap-up of his Hollywood movie contract obligations, he opened at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in the summer of 1969 for a 4-week, 57-show engagement that broke all existing Las Vegas attendance records. He returned to the International a few months later in early 1970, during the slow winter season in Vegas, and broke his own attendance record.
Right after that came a record-breaking six-show engagement at the Astrodome in Houston, where Elvis played to a total of 207,494 people. Elvis took his elaborate live show on the road in the latter part of 1970 for his first concert tour since 1957. Throughout the 1970’s Elvis toured America, breaking box office records right and left, and continued to play an engagement or two per year in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Among the outstanding highlights of this period was in 1972, when Elvis performed four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden. During his ? oncert years? from 1969 to 1977, Elvis gave nearly 1,100 concert performances. Elvis received 14 Grammy nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). His three wins were for gospel recordings – the album How Great Thou Art (1967), the album He Touched Me (1972) and his live Memphis concert recording of the song How Great Thou Art (1974). In 1971, NARAS also recognized him with their Lifetime Achievement Award (known then as the Bing Crosby Award … in honor of its first recipient). Elvis was 36 years old at the time.
Five of Elvis’ recordings have been inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame – his original 1956 recordings of Hound Dog (inducted 1988) and Heartbreak Hotel (inducted 1995), his original 1954 recording of That’s All Right (inducted 1998), his original 1969 recording of Suspicious Minds (inducted 1999), and his original 1956 recording of Don’t Be Cruel (inducted 2002). The Hall of Fame recognizes “early recordings of lasting, qualitative or historical significance,” with many inductees being recordings that were created and released before the 1958 inception of NARAS and the Grammy Awards.
One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (the Jaycees) named Elvis One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 in a ceremony on January 16, 1971, one of Elvis? proudest moments. This award has been given since 1938 and has honored men of achievement in all areas of endeavor – sports, government, science, medicine, entertainment, etc. It recognizes outstanding personal achievement and the exemplification of the opportunities available in the free enterprise system, along with patriotism, humanitarianism, and community service. In the 1980’s, eligibility was opened to women as well as men, and the award has since been presented to the year’s Ten Outstanding Young Americans. ) Elvis Presley was famous for giving away Cadillacs, cash and jewelry, often on the spur of the moment. But, the true depth and breadth of his generosity and community involvement is not so widely known. In 1961, Elvis gave a benefit concert at Bloch Arena in Hawaii that raised over $65,000 toward the building of the U. S. S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. The resulting publicity gave new life to the fund-raising effort, which had, by then, lost its momentum.
The memorial opened a year later. Audience tickets for his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii television special and its pre-broadcast rehearsal show carried no price, as each audience member was asked to pay whatever he or she could. The performances and concert merchandise sales were a benefit raising $75,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund in Hawaii. Each year, for many years, Elvis gave $1,000 or more to each of fifty Memphis-area charities, but also continually made many other charitable donations in Memphis and around the country. Most of Elvis? philanthropic endeavors received no publicity at all.
Throughout his adult life, for friends, for family, and for total strangers, he quietly paid hospital bills, bought homes, supported families, paid off debts, and much more. Elvis’ legacy of generosity continues through the work of the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation, which is the philanthropic branch of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. and the creator of the Elvis Presley Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of Memphis. The tradition of giving also continues through the work of the Elvis fan clubs worldwide, most of which are heavily involved in charitable endeavors in Elvis’ memory.
Graceland, Elvis Presley? home and refuge for twenty years, is one of the most visited homes in America today, now attracting over 600,000 visitors annually. It is also the most famous home in America after the White House. In 1991, Graceland Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1992, the U. S. Postal Service announced that Elvis? image would be used for a commemorative postage stamp. The Postal Service narrowed the artwork choices down to two images – one of Elvis in the 1950’s as a sizzling young rocker, and one of him as a still-svelte concert superstar in his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii special.
In an unprecedented move, the USPS put the decision to the American people and distributed ballots coast to coast. Over 1. 2 million votes were cast, and the image of the young rocker won. The stamp was released on January 8, 1993, with extravagant first day of issue ceremonies at Graceland. The Elvis stamp is the most widely publicized stamp issue in the history of the U. S. Postal Service, and it is the top selling commemorative postage stamp of all time. The USPS printed 500 million of them, three times the usual print run for a commemorative stamp.
Several countries outside the USA also have issued Elvis stamps over the years. The 1984 W. C. Handy Award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis recognized Elvis for “keeping the blues alive in his music – rock and roll. ” The Academy of Country Music’s first Golden Hat Award presented in 1984 recognized Elvis’ influence on country music. In 1986, Elvis was among the first group of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1987, Elvis was honored with the first posthumous presentation of the Award of Merit by the American Music Awards, 1987.
In 1998, Elvis received the Country Music Association’s highest honor, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2001, Elvis was inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame. With that honor, Elvis is the only person, so far, to become a member of all three of these halls of fame – Rock and Roll, Country and Gospel. Currently, there are over 625 active Elvis fan clubs worldwide. Elvis’ popularity is at an all-time high, and his legacy continues to reach new audiences.
Half of Graceland’s visitors are age 35 and under. On August 16, 1997, Elvis, via video, starred in an extravagant concert production entitled Elvis in Concert 97 at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee, accompanied live on stage by over thirty of his former bandmates and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The show played before a capacity crowd of fans who had come to Memphis from around the world to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Elvis’ death. Elvis broke the Mid-South Coliseum’s all-time record dollar figure for box office sales.
This concert was the prototype for the 1998/1999 touring production Elvis – The Concert. By being the first performer ever to headline a live concert tour while no longer living, Elvis made history again. The March 1998 tour included a three-show smash engagement at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The August 1998 tour included the excitement of Elvis’ “return” to the Las Vegas Hilton with an eight-show engagement. The January/ February 1999 European tour opened with a sell-out at London’s Wembley Arena and, in effect, marked Elvis’ first-ever concerts outside of North America.