Wednesday, January 8, 2020

1956, the Year of Elvis

Elvis Presley was born in East Tupelo, Mississippi on Jan. 8th, in 1935. His music career began in 1954 when he made his first recording at Sun Studio in Memphis. By the time 1956 had rolled around, he had scored his first #1 hit with "Heartbreak Hotel."

1956 was a year like none other for the 21-year-old singing sensation. Before "Heartbreak Hotel," he had only been a regional star. Both he and his new Rockabilly sound were unknowns outside of the South, but by year's end he would become a phenomenon, both nationally and internationally, like nothing anyone had ever seen before. His first two albums for RCA had both been million sellers. He appeared on national television eleven times that year, each one a pivotal event for America, considering the fact that his unconventional looks and his style of performing caused nationwide controversy, outraging adults and mesmerizing teenagers. Soon, Elvis would become the leader of a cultural revolution sweeping across the country.

His song, "Love Me Tender," came out on Sept. 28th that year. It hit \#1 on Billboard the week ending Nov. 3rd, where it remained for five weeks. Earlier that year, Elvis had signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures and because of the songs' popularity, his first film, was named after it. Released on Nov. 15th, "Love Me Tender," starred Richard Egan and Debra Paget, with Elvis listed as a co-star, the only time in his acting career that he would not receive top billing. The movie was originally to be titled "The Reno Brothers," but when advanced sales of Presley's song passed one million copies sold, the title was changed to match.

What was the phenom surrounding Elvis all about in 1956 and why did he take the nation by storm that year? In reality, a close look at his schedule that year suggests it was because of his work ethic. The man worked very hard, performing ninety-four concerts, making controversial landmark national TV appearances, including Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Milton Berle, beginning a movie career and recording songs like "Love Me Tender," "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Don't Be Cruel." But for Presley's female fans, his catapult to stardom in 1956 was based on something else: his deep, rich and incredibly sexy voice, his thick hair and his dreamy eyes, all combined with the way he performed on stage. It was a sentiment echoed by girl fans all across America and around the world, even here at home.

Speaking of which, on Nov. 25th of that year, with a new song hot off the press, and just ten days after the release of his first movie, Elvis appeared for two shows at the Louisville Armory. For anyone in this region who had been wanting to get a glimpse of the future king of rock and roll, this was their opportunity. Four members of my aunt, Patsy Speck, and her cousins, sisters Johnnie, Fay and Betty Means, and their friend Neta Owens, attended the 8pm show.

Four days later, on Nov. 29th, the Clinton County News wrote that the four ladies spent the day in Louisville, first seeing the movie, "Love Me Tender," and then the live performance that evening. When asked to comment on his performance, the girls replied: "It was the most thrilling show in our life. We will never forget it as long as we live. Elvis was just wonderful. We all had a nice time." The girls reported that they had made pictures of Elvis on stage and standing beside his Cadillac. They remained Elvis fans the rest of their lives, the biggest by far being Johnnie. A visit to her home will easily tell you that.

For those four, and millions of others, the excitement level over Elvis Presley in 1956 was way off the chart, so excited that they probably never stopped to realize that there was barely a moments rest for the 21-year-old kid from East Tupelo, Mississippi. It definitely was a year like none other.

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