Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) was an American singer and actor. A cultural icon, he is commonly known simply as Elvis and is also sometimes referred to as The King of Rock 'n' Roll or The King.
Presley began his career in 1954 as one of the first performers of rockabilly, an uptempo fusion of country and rhythm and blues with a strong back beat. His novel versions of existing songs, mixing "black" and "white" sounds, made him popular—and controversial]—as did his uninhibited stage and television performances. Presley had a versatile voice and he had unusually wide success encompassing many genres, including rock and roll, gospel, blues, country, ballads and pop. To date, he has been inducted into four music halls of fame.
In 1968, after making movies in Hollywood and having been away from the stage for seven years, he returned to live performances in a television special, which led to a string of successful tours across the U.S., notably in Las Vegas, for the remainder of his career. In 1973, Presley staged the first global live concert via satellite (Aloha from Hawaii), reaching at least one billion viewers live and an additional 500 million on delay. It remains the most watched broadcast by an individual entertainer in television history.
Throughout his career, he set records for concert attendance, television ratings and recordings sales. He is one of the best-selling solo artists in the history of popular music, with sales between 600 million and one billion worldwide, and he is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular culture. Among his many awards and accolades are 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 being named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 by the United States Jaycees.
In Memphis, Presley went to record stores that had jukeboxes and listening booths. He knew all of Hank Snow’s songs and he loved records by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Ted Daffan, Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmie Davis and Bob Wills. He was also an audience member at the all-night white—and black—"gospel sings" downtown. The region's radio stations played "race records" featuring music that became known as rhythm and blues. Memphis had a strong tradition of blues music and Presley frequented blues as well as hillbilly venues. Many of his future recordings were inspired by local African American composers and recording artists, including Arthur Crudup and Rufus Thomas. B.B. King has recalled that he knew Presley before he was popular when they both used to frequent Beale Street. By that time Presley had also separated himself from others by his changing appearance (sideburns, long hair, flashy clothes) and he seems to have singled music out as his future.
Presley was an untrained musician who played by ear as he didn't read music. Later, as a young singer, his recording sessions were "still heavily influenced by the songs he had heard on the jukebox and radio."
1953–1955: First recordings and performances
Sun Records 1953–55
In the summer of 1953, Presley went to Sun Records' Memphis Recording Service to record "My Happiness" with "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," supposedly as a present for his mother although it was months after her birthday. When asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Presley told her that he sang all kinds. Determined to pin him down to a particular style, she then asked him who he sounded like, a question Presley responded to by insisting that he didn't sound like anyone. After his demo, she made herself a note: "Good ballad singer, Hold."
On January 4, 1954, he cut a second acetate demo recording of "I'll Never Stand In Your Way" and "It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You", but again nothing came of the recording session. In April Presley began working for the Crown Electric company as a truck driver, and around this time he auditioned for the Songfelows, but was disappointed when they turned him down and said he couldn't sing. Years later the group insisted that they meant he couldn't sing harmony, but Presley took the criticism to heart.
A few months later, Sun Records boss Sam Phillips was on the lookout for someone who could deliver a blend of black blues and boogie-woogie music; he thought it would be very popular among white people. When Phillips acquired a demo recording of "Without You" and was unable to identify the vocalist, Marion Keisker reminded him about the young truck driver. She called him on June 26, 1954. However, Presley was not able to do justice to the song. Phillips would later recall that Elvis was as nervous as anybody that he had seen in front of a microphone. Despite this, Phillips asked Presley to sing as many songs as he knew and, impressed enough by what he heard, he invited local musicians Winfield "Scotty" Moore and Bill Black to audition Presley. Though they were not overly impressed, a studio session was planned.
On July 5, during a recording break, Presley began "acting the fool" with Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)". Phillips quickly got them all to restart, and began taping. This was the sound he had been looking for. The following day the group recorded Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky", and it was released as the B-side to That's All Right.
"That's All Right" was aired on July 8, 1954, by DJ Dewey Phillips on his Red, Hot and Blue show. Listeners to the show began phoning in, eager to find out who the singer was. The interest was such that Phillips played the demo fourteen times. During an interview on the show, Phillips asked Presley what high school he attended—to clarify Presley's color for listeners who assumed he must be black.
On July 12 Moore officially became Presley's manager and, along with Black, began playing regularly with him. They gave performances on July 17 and July 24, 1954 to promote the Sun single at the Bon Air, a rowdy music club in Memphis, where the band was not well-received. On July 30 the trio, billed as The Blue Moon Boys, made their first paid appearance at the Overton Park Shell, with Slim Whitman headlining. With a natural feel for rhythm, Presley shook his legs when performing: his wide-legged pants emphasizing his leg movements, apparently causing females in the audience to go "crazy." Presley was aware of the cause of the audience's reaction and consciously incorporated similar movements into future shows.
Soon after, Deejay and promoter Bob Neal became the trio's manager (replacing Scotty Moore). Moore and Black left their band, the Starlight Wranglers and, from August through October 1954, appeared with Presley at The Eagle's Nest. Presley debuted at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on October 2; Hank Snow introduced Presley on stage. He performed "Blue Moon of Kentucky" but received only a polite response. Afterwards, the singer was supposedly told by the Opry's Jim Denny to not give up his day job. though others deny it was Denny who made that statement.
Country music promoter and manager Tillman Franks booked Presley for October 16 on KWKH-AM's Louisiana Hayride. Before Franks saw Presley, he referred to him as "that new black singer with the funny name." During Presley's first set, the reaction was muted; Franks then advised Presley to "Let it all go!" for the second set. House drummer D.J. Fontana complemented Presley's movements with accented beats which he had mastered during his time working as a drummer in strip clubs. Bill Black also took an active part in encouraging the audience, and the crowd became more responsive. According to one source, regarding Presley's engagements from that time, "Audiences had never before heard [such] music... [or] seen anyone who performed like Presley either. The shy, polite, mumbling boy gained self-confidence with every appearance". Sam Phillips said Presley put all his emotion into each song, as if he was unable to sing any other way.By August 1955, Sun Studios had released ten sides, credited to "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill," all typical of the developing Presley style which seemed hard to categorize; he was billed or labeled in the media as "The King of Western Bop," "The Hillbilly Cat" and "The Memphis Flash".