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|Elvis Presley was the first real rock and roll star. A white southerner who singing blues laced with country and country tinged with gospel, Presley brought together music from both sides of the color line. Presley performed this music with a natural hip swiveling sexuality that made him a teen idol and a role model for generations of cool rebels. Presley was repeatedly dismissed as vulgar, incompetent and a bad influence. However the force of his music and image signaled to the mainstream culture it was time for a change|
|Elvis Presley is widely credited with bringing rock and roll into mainstream culture. According to Rolling Stone magazine "it was Elvis who made rock 'n' roll the international language of pop." A PBS documentary once described Presley as "an American music giant of the 20th century who singlehandedly changed the course of music and culture in the mid-1950s." . His recordings, dance moves, attitude and clothing came to be seen as embodiments of rock and roll. Presley sang both hard driving rockabilly and rock and roll dance songs and ballads, laying a commercial foundation upon which other rock and roll musicians would build. African-American performers like Little Richard and Chuck Berry came to national prominence after Presley's acceptance among mass audiences of white teenagers. Singers like Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and others immediately followed in his wake, leading John Lennon to later observe, "Before Elvis, there was nothing."
Elvis Presley at the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair, 1956
Teenagers came to Presley's concerts in unprecedented numbers. When he performed at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair in 1956 a hundred National Guardsmen surrounded the stage to control crowds of excited fans. When municipal politicians began denying permits for Presley appearances teens piled into cars and traveled elsewhere to see him perform. It seemed as if the more adults tried to stop it, the more teenagers across North America insisted on having what they wanted. When adult programmers announced they would not play Presley's music on their radio stations (some because God told them it was sexually suggestive Devil music, others saying it was Southern "nigger" music) the economic power of that generation became evident when they tuned in any radio station playing Elvis records. In an industry already shifting to all-music formats in reaction to television, profit-conscious radio station owners learned hard lessons when sponsors bought advertising time on new rock and roll stations reaching enormous markets at night with clear channel signals from AM broadcasts.
During the 1950s post-WWII economic boom in the United States, many parents were able to give their teenaged children much higher weekly allowances, signalling a shift in the buying power and purchasing habits of teens. During the 1940s bobby soxers had idolized Frank Sinatra but the buyers of his records were mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. Presley triggered a juggernaut of demand for his records by near-teens and early teens aged ten and up.
Presley's overwhelming appeal was to girls. Many boys adopted his look to attract them. Along with Elvis' ducktail haircut, the demand for black slacks and loose, open-necked shirts resulted in new lines of clothing for teenaged boys. In 1956 America, birthday and Christmas gifts were often music or even Elvis related. A girl might get a pink portable 45 rpm record player for her bedroom. Meanwhile American teenagers began buying newly available portable transistor radios  and listened to rock 'n' roll on them (helping to propel that fledgling industry from an estimated 100,000 units sold in 1955 to 5,000,000 units by the end of 1958). Teens were asserting more independence and Elvis Presley became a national symbol of their parents' consternation.
Presley's impact on the American youth consumer market was noted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on December 31, 1956 when future Pulitzer Prize-winning business journalist Louis M. Kohlmeier wrote, "Elvis Presley today is a business," and reported on the singer's record and merchandise sales (this may have been the first time a journalist described an entertainer as a business). Half a century later, historian Ian Brailsford (University of Auckland, New Zealand) commented, "The phenomenal success of Elvis Presley in 1956 convinced many doubters of the financial opportunities existing in the youth market." 
Birth & Childhood
Elvis Aron Presley was born in a two-room house in East Tupelo, Mississippi to Vernon Elvis Presley and Gladys Love Smith. The surname Presley was Anglicized from the German Pressler during the Civil War. His ancestor Johann Valentin Pressler emigrated to North America in 1710. Pressler first settled in New York, but later moved to the South.
Elvis Presley was raised both in East Tupelo (which merged with Tupelo in 1948) and later in Memphis, Tennessee, where his family moved when he was 13. Elvis had a twin brother (Jesse Garon Presley) who died at birth. In 1949 the family moved to Lauderdale Courts public housing development which was near musical and cultural influences like Beale Street, Ellis Auditorium and the Poplar Tunes record store along with the Sun Studio about a mile away.
In her book, Elvis and Gladys author Elaine Dundy wrote that those close to Elvis as a boy say he was a fan of comic book superhero Captain Marvel, Jr. and would later model his trademark hairstyle and some of his stage costumes on the comic book character.
Elvis took up the guitar at 11 and practiced in the basement laundry room at Lauderdale Courts. He played gigs in the malls and courtyards of the Courts with other musicians who lived there. After high school he worked at Precision Tool Company, then drove a truck for the Crown Electric Company.
The Sun recordings
Main article: Elvis Presley's Sun recordings
In the summer of 1953 Presley paid $4 to record the first of two double-sided demo acetates at Sun Studios, "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" which were popular ballads at the time. According to the official Presley website, Elvis reportedly gave it to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present. Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and assistant Marion Keisker heard the discs and called him in June 1954 to fill in for a missing ballad singer. Although that session was not productive, Sam Phillips put Elvis together with local musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black to see what might develop. During a rehearsal break on July 5, 1954 Elvis began singing a blues song written by Arthur Crudup called "That's All Right". Phillips liked the resulting record and released it as a 78RPM single backed with Elvis' hopped-up version of Bill Monroe's bluegrass song "Blue Moon Of Kentucky." Memphis radio station WHBQ began airing it two days later, the record became a local hit and Elvis began a regular touring schedule which expanded his fame beyond Tennessee.
Country music star Hank Snow arranged to have Presley perform at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and his performance was received well by the audience. Nonetheless, one of the shows executives was far from impressed and hinted that Presley should give up his music. However, since that time many singers (Garth Brooks among them) have commented that one of the greatest thrills of playing the Opry is that they played on the same stage as Presley.
He continued to tour the U.S. South and on October 16, 1954 he made his first appearance on Louisiana Hayride, a radio broadcast of live country music in Shreveport, Louisiana and was a hit with the large audience. Following this Presley was signed to a one-year contract for a weekly performance during which time he was introduced to Colonel Tom Parker. This helped sales of his records as his releases began to reach the top of the country charts.
The management of Colonel Tom Parker
On August 15, 1955 Elvis Presley was signed by "Hank Snow Attractions," a management company jointly owned by singer Hank Snow and Colonel Tom Parker. Shortly thereafter, Colonel Parker took full control and, recognizing the limitations of Sun Studios, negotiated a deal with RCA Records on November 21, 1955, then immediately established two New York City recording companies for Presley's music. Understanding the commercial value for any composer having their song recorded by Presley, Parker was able to demand they share their royalties with the singer. A master promoter who wasted no time in marketing Presley's image, Parker licensed everything from guitars to cookware. After being approached by the Hollywood Studios, Parker eventually negotiated a multi-picture seven-year contract that shifted Presley's focus from music to films. Under the terms of his contract, Presley earned a fee for performing plus a percentage of the profits on the films, most of which were huge moneymakers. (See "Movies" section below.) With money seemingly being at the forefront of all decisions made by the Colonel, his success led to his management contract with Elvis being renegotiated to an even 50/50 split between the two. Over the years, much has been written about Colonel Parker, most of it critical. Marty Lacker, a lifelong friend and a member of the Memphis Mafia, says he thought of Parker as a "hustler and scam artist" who abused Elvis's reliance on him. Nonetheless, along with Lamar Fike, and Presley's first cousin Billy Smith, Lacker acknowledged that Parker was a master promoter as recounted in their 1995 book Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations from the Memphis Mafia. In the 2005 television special about her husband, Priscilla Presley said she didn't know who else there was at the time in 1955 who could have seized the moment and done the job of marketing Elvis. Parker's definitive biography was written by award-winning journalist Alanna Nash and published in 2003.|
On January 27, 1956 Elvis' sixth single and his first on RCA Records, "Heartbreak Hotel" / "I Was the One", was released and made the pop charts (it reached #1 in April). The next day Presley's national television debut on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show marked the beginning of his meteoric rise to international stardom. On June 5, 1956 Presley scandalized the audience of the The Milton Berle Show with suggestive hip movements while performing his second RCA single "Hound Dog." Television critics across the country slammed the performance for its "appalling lack of musicality," "vulgarity" and "animalism." The reaction was so severe, Presley was obliged to explain himself on a local New York City TV show (Hy Gardner Calling). Shortly thereafter he appeared on The Steve Allen Show dressed in a tuxedo, billed as "the new Elvis Presley" and singing "Hound Dog" to a basset hound, an experience Presley later said he found humiliating.
After a string of other TV appearances Presley made his first performance on the top-rated Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, earning the broadcast a record 52–60 million viewers (82.6% of the viewership that night). By the time of his second Sullivan appearance on October 28 Presley had dyed his sandy blond hair jet black. Opposition gathered against him and even more so against his gyrations on stage. The December 1956 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine described Presley as behaving like "a sex maniac in public." On his third and final Sullivan appearance (January 6, 1957) Sullivan bowed to pressure from "moralists" and ordered that Presley be televised from the waist up to avoid showing his controversial hip movements. Meanwhile the press had taken to calling him Elvis the Pelvis, a nickname he is said to have thoroughly disliked.
"Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog" topped the pop, black and country charts in 1956 and many more hit records followed. Over the next twenty-one years (until his death in 1977) Elvis had 146 Hot 100 hits, 112 top 40 hits, 72 top 20 hits and 40 top 10 hits, an achievement that has never been matched by any solo artist.
On December 20, 1957, Presley received his draft notice for the then compulsory 2-year service with the United States Army. On March 24, 1958, he was inducted into the Army at the Memphis Draft Board. He received no special treatment and was widely praised for not doing what many wealthy and influential people did to avoid service or to serve part time in easy domestic positions such as the Special Services where he could have sung and continued to maintain a public profile. His military service received massive media coverage with much speculation whether or not two years out of the limelight at the height of his popularity would do irreparable damage to his career. Presley sailed to Europe on the USS General George M. Randall, and served in Germany as an ordinary soldier.
Elvis Presley returned to the United States on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged on March 5th.
Many observers (including John Lennon) later claimed that following Presley's return from military service the quality of his recorded output dropped, although others thought he was still capable of creating records equal to his best (and did so on the infrequent occasions where he was presented with "decent" material at his movie recording sessions). Presley himself became deeply dissatisfied with the direction his career would take over the ensuing seven years, notably the film contract with a demanding schedule that eliminated creative recording and giving public concerts. In 1960 the album Elvis is Back was recorded. This, like his first two albums, Elvis Presley and Elvis, are considered by many of his fans to be his best work. With this drop-off, and in the face of the social upheaval of the 1960s and the British Invasion spearheaded by The Beatles, Presley's star faded slightly before a triumphant televised performance later dubbed the Comeback Special. Aired on the NBC network on December 3, 1968, the show saw him return to his rock and roll roots. His 1969 return to live performances, first in Las Vegas and then across the country, was noted for the constant stream of sold-out shows, with many setting attendance records in the venues where he performed.
After seven years off the top of the charts, Presley's song "Suspicious Minds" hit No. 1 on the Billboard music charts on November 1, 1969. This was the last time any song by Presley hit #1 on the US pop charts while he was still alive, although "Burning Love" got as high as #2 in September 1972. He still reached #1 on charts around the world. For example, "The Wonder Of You" reached #1 in the UK in 1970. The "Aloha from Hawaii" concert in January 1973 was the first of its kind to be broadcast worldwide via satellite and his biggest audience ever. The soundtrack album was another #1 disc.
Way Down was racing up the American Country Music charts shortly before Presley's death in 1977, and hit #1 on that very chart the week he died (Presley recorded a number of country hits in his final years). It also topped the UK pop charts at the same time. Between 1969 and 1977 he gave over 1,000 sold-out performances in Las Vegas and on tour. He was the first artist to have four shows in a row sold to capacity at New York's Madison Square Garden. During the mid-1970s Presley became increasingly isolated, battling an addiction to prescription drugs and its resulting toll on his appearance, health and performances. Elvis Presley made his last live concert appearance in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977.
In late 1955, Presley made his earliest known film appearance in a documentary entitled The Pied Piper of Cleveland, a look at the career of disc jockey Bill Randle. The film, which reportedly included performance footage of Elvis as well as Bill Haley and His Comets and other acts, was shown in its entirety only once (in Cleveland) and was never released commercially. The film is currently considered "misplaced" and some Presley researchers maintain it never existed, although there is ample evidence to suggest it did.
Beginning with Love Me Tender (opened on November 15, 1956), Presley starred in 31 motion pictures, having signed to multiple long-term contracts on the advice of his manager. These were usually musicals based around Presley performances, and marked the beginning of his transition from rebellious rock and roller to all-round family entertainer. Elvis was praised by all his directors, including the highly respected Michael Curtiz, as unfailingly polite and extremely hardworking.
The movies Jailhouse Rock (1957), King Creole (1958), and Flaming Star (1960) are widely regarded as his best among film critics. Among fans, Blue Hawaii (1961) and Viva Las Vegas (1964) are also highly praised.
In addition to his own films, Presley has been the subject of more than seventy films that have his name in the title.
For details on films in which he starred, see the List of Elvis Presley films.|