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Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley promoting Jailhouse Rock.jpg
Publicity photo for Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Background information
Birth name Elvis Aaron Presley
Also known as The Hillbilly Cat (1953–55)
Born (1936-01-08)January 8, 1936
Tupelo, Mississippi, U.S.
Origin Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Died Error: Need valid death date (first date): year, month, day
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S
Genres Rock and roll, rockabilly, pop, country, gospel
Occupation(s) Singer, actor
Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano
Years active 1953–1977
Labels Sun, RCA Victor

Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 − August 16, 1977) was an American singer, musician and actor. He was one of the first and most famous in rock and roll music. He also starred in many movies. His fame has lasted long after his death. He is one of the most well-known people from the 20th century in the world. He is so popular that some people know him as only "Elvis". He is also referred to as "The King of Rock and Roll", or just "The King".

Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. He and his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when he was 13 years old. His music career began there in 1954. He first started to work with Sam Phillips who was the owner of Sun Records. RCA Records acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker. Presley's first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel" was released in January 1956. It was a number-one hit in the US. He became the leading figure of rock and roll after many of television appearances and chart-topping records. His energetic attitude towards his music and his performance style, made him very popular—and controversial.

In November 1956, he made his film debut in Love Me Tender. In 1958, he was drafted into military service. When he resumed his recording career two years later, he made some of his most successful work. In the 1960s, Presley gave most of his time to making Hollywood movies. After a long seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in 1968. In 1973, Presley was featured in the first globally broadcast concert. Several years of prescription drug abuse damaged his health, and he died in 1977 at the age of 42

Early life

Elvis' birthplace Tupelo, MS 2007
Presley's birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi

Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi to 18-year-old Vernon Elvis Presley and 22-year-old Gladys Love Presley (née Smith), in the two-room shotgun house built by Vernon's father in preparation for the child's birth. Jesse Garon Presley, his identical twin brother, was delivered stillborn 35 minutes before him. As an only child, Presley became close to both parents and formed an unusually tight bond with his mother. The family attended an Assembly of God church, where he found his initial musical inspiration. Presley's ancestry was primarily a Western European mix: on his mother's side, he was Scots-Irish, with some French Norman; one of Gladys' great-great-grandmothers was Cherokee. According to a third cousin of Presley's, one of Gladys's great-grandmothers was Jewish. There is no evidence that Presley or his mother shared this belief in a Jewish heritage. Syndicated columnist Nate Bloom has challenged the cousin's account, which he calls a "tall tale". Presley's father's forebears were of Scottish and German ancestry. Gladys was regarded by relatives and friends as the dominant member of the small family.

Vernon moved from one odd job to the next. The family often relied on help from neighbors and government food assistance. The Presleys survived the F5 tornado in the 1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak. In 1938, they lost their home after Vernon was found guilty of altering a check written by the landowner. He was jailed for eight months, and Gladys and Elvis moved in with relatives.

He moved to Memphis, Tennessee with his family when he was 13 years old.

Presley was one of the first musicians to play a type of music called rockabilly, which combined country music with rhythm and blues. His first No.1 hit, "Heartbreak Hotel", from 1955, and was one of the first popular rock and roll songs.



Presley's earliest musical influence came from gospel. His mother recalled that from the age of two, at the Assembly of God church in Tupelo attended by the family, "he would slide down off my lap, run into the aisle and scramble up to the platform.

As a teenager, Presley's musical interests were wide-ranging, and he was deeply informed about African American musical idioms as well as white ones (see "Teenage life in Memphis"). Though he never had any formal training, he was blessed with a remarkable memory, and his musical knowledge was already considerable by the time he made his first professional recordings in 1954 at the age of 19. When Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller met him two years later, they were astonished at his encyclopedic understanding of the blues. At a press conference the following year, he proudly declared, "I know practically every religious song that's ever been written."

Musical style and genres

Presley in a Sun Records promotional photograph, 1954
Elvis Presley first national television appearance 1956
Publicity photo for the CBS program Stage Show, January 16, 1956

Presley was a central figure in the development of rockabilly, according to music historians. Katherine Charlton even calls him "rockabilly's originator", though Carl Perkins has explicitly stated that "[Sam] Phillips, Elvis, and I didn't create rockabilly." and, according to Michael Campbell, "Bill Haley recorded the first big rockabilly hit." "It had been there for quite a while", says Scotty Moore. "Carl Perkins was doing basically the same sort of thing up around Jackson, and I know for a fact Jerry Lee Lewis had been playing that kind of music ever since he was ten years old." However, "Rockabilly crystallized into a recognizable style in 1954 with Elvis Presley's first release, on the Sun label", writes Craig Morrison. Paul Friedlander describes the defining elements of rockabilly, which he similarly characterizes as "essentially ... an Elvis Presley construction": "the raw, emotive, and slurred vocal style and emphasis on rhythmic feeling [of] the blues with the string band and strummed rhythm guitar [of] country". In "That's All Right", the Presley trio's first record, Scotty Moore's guitar solo, "a combination of Merle Travis–style country finger-picking, double-stop slides from acoustic boogie, and blues-based bent-note, single-string work, is a microcosm of this fusion."

At RCA, Presley's rock and roll sound grew distinct from rockabilly with group chorus vocals, more heavily amplified electric guitars and a tougher, more intense manner. While he was known for taking songs from various sources and giving them a rockabilly/rock and roll treatment, he also recorded songs in other genres from early in his career, from the pop standard "Blue Moon" at Sun to the country ballad "How's the World Treating You?" on his second LP to the blues of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town". In 1957, his first gospel record was released, the four-song EP Peace in the Valley. Certified as a million seller, it became the top-selling gospel EP in recording history. Presley would record gospel periodically for the rest of his life.

After his return from military service in 1960, Presley continued to perform rock and roll, but the characteristic style was substantially toned down.

While Presley performed several of his classic ballads for the '68 Comeback Special, the sound of the show was dominated by aggressive rock and roll. He would record few new straight-ahead rock and roll songs thereafter; as he explained, they were "hard to find". A significant exception was "Burning Love", his last major hit on the pop charts. Like his work of the 1950s, Presley's subsequent recordings reworked pop and country songs, but in markedly different permutations. His stylistic range now began to embrace a more contemporary rock sound as well as soul and funk. Much of Elvis In Memphis, as well as "Suspicious Minds", cut at the same sessions, reflected his new rock and soul fusion. In the mid-1970s, many of his singles found a home on country radio, the field where he first became a star.

Vocal style and range

Elvis Presley - TV Radio Mirror, March 1957 01
Presley performing live at the Mississippi-Alabama Fairgrounds in Tupelo, Mississippi, September 26, 1956
Phoenix-Musical Intrument Museum-Elvis Presley exhibit-1
Elvis' clothes
Elvis Presley and the Jordanaires 1957
Presley with his backup group, the Jordanaires, March 1957
Phoenix-Musical Intrument Museum-Elavis Presely exhibit-2
Elvis' guitar. Both the clothes and guitar are on exhibit in the Musical Instrument Museum of Phoenix
Elvis Presley and Ed Sullivan October 1956
Ed Sullivan and Presley during rehearsals for his second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, October 26, 1956

The general development of Presley's voice is described by critic Dave Marsh as "high and thrilled in the early days, lower and perplexed in the final months." Marsh credits Presley with the introduction of the "vocal stutter" on 1955's "Baby Let's Play House." When on "Don't Be Cruel" Presley "slides into a 'mmmmm' that marks the transition between the first two verses," he shows "how masterful his relaxed style really is." Marsh describes the singing on "Can't Help Falling in Love" to be of "gentle insistence and delicacy of phrasing," with the line "'Shall I stay'" pronounced as if the words are fragile as crystal." On the operatic "It's Now or Never" Presley "was reaching for something more than he had ever attempted before," and, according to discographer Jorgensen, later the same year the melody to "Surrender", a number also based on an Italian original, "Torna A Sorrento", "required an even greater demonstration of vocal powers."

Jorgensen calls the 1966 recording of "How Great Thou Art" "an extraordinary fulfillment of his vocal ambitions," as Presley had "crafted for himself an ad-hoc arrangement in which he took every part of the four-part vocal, from [the] bass intro to the soaring heights of the song's operatic climax," in the process becoming "a kind of one-man quartet." Guralnick finds "Stand By Me" from the same sessions "a beautifully articulated, almost nakedly yearning performance," but, by contrast, feels that Presley reaches beyond his powers on "Where No One Stands Alone" on which "he was reduced to a kind of inelegant bellowing to push out a sound" that Jake Hess would have no problem with. Hess himself thought that while others may have a voice as great or greater than Presley's, "he had that certain something that everyone searches for all during their lifetime." Guralnick attempts to pinpoint that something: "The warmth of his voice, his controlled use of both vibrato technique and natural falsetto range, the subtlety and deeply felt conviction of his singing were all qualities recognizably belonging to his talent but just as recognizably not to be achieved without sustained dedication and effort."

Presley's singing to his own "necessarily limited, both rhythmically and melodically," piano accompaniment, such as can be heard on the 1967 recording of "You'll Never Walk Alone", for Guralnick are always special occasions, because "it was always a measure of his engagement when he sat down at the keyboard to play." Describing his piano technique as "staccato style," Jorgensen finds that on "Without Love" from the 1969 sessions, "his gospel-flavored treatment took it to a level of spirituality rarely matched in his career." Presley also played the instrument on the "impassioned version" of the sessions' next song, "I'll Hold You in My Heart," of which Guralnick writes that "there is something magical about the moment that only the most inspired singing can bring about, as Elvis loses himself in the music, words no longer lend themselves to literal translation, and singer and listener both are left emotionally wrung out by the time the song finally limps to an end."

Marsh praises his 1968 reading of "U.S. Male", "bearing down on the hard guy lyrics, not sending them up or overplaying them but tossing them around with that astonishingly tough yet gentle assurance that he brought to his Sun records." The performance on "In the Ghetto" is, according to Jorgensen, "devoid of any of his characteristic vocal tricks or mannerisms," instead relying on "the astonishing clarity and sensitivity of his voice." Guralnick describes the tenderness in the singing of the same song of "such unassuming, almost translucent eloquence, it is so quietly confident in its simplicity" that one is reminded of the Sun period, "offering equal parts yearning and social compassion." On "Suspicious Minds" from the same sessions Guralnick hears essentially the same "remarkable mixture of tenderness and poise," but supplemented with "an expressive quality somewhere between stoicism (at suspected infidelity) and anguish (over impending loss)."

Personal life

Elvis grave Graceland
Presley's gravestone at Graceland

Presley entered the military in 1958, and was stationed in Germany. He was honorably discharged from the military, and returned to the United States in 1960. In Germany, he met Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he married in 1967. They had a daughter which they named Lisa Marie (who was married to pop singer Michael Jackson).

In 1973, Priscilla and Elvis divorced. By this point, he had become addicted to many prescription drugs.


He died on August 16, 1977 from a heart attack.

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