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Who could have known that a young man from Tupelo, Mississippi would go on to gain worldwide superstardom and become one of the most recognizable names on Earth. Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, but moved to Memphis, Tennessee as a teenager and learned the heavily Southern and black-influenced blues, country, gospel, soul and rockabilly styles that would endear him to fans everywhere for decades. Elvis spent many of his formative years along Beale Street, the center of the Memphis music scene, learning about all forms of music and pursuing a career as a musician and vocalist. In 1954, as a spry 19-year-old, he earned his big break working with Sam Phillips and Sun Records, when they created the demo acetate of “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” during a jam session with guitarist Winfield “Scotty” Moore and upright bass player Bill Black. In November of 1955, with the assistance of manager Bob Neal and promoter/manager Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis signed his first record contract with RCA Records and by 1956 Presley’s first two albums, “Elvis Presley” and “Elvis” became Number One on the Billboard charts and yielded six Number One singles. Some of the most enduring singles Elvis created came on his first two self-titled albums including Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t Be Cruel, Hound Dog and Love Me Tender.
With success came controversy for Presley as radio stations struggled to define his style (though the hybrid name “rockabilly” seemed suitable), but the much more conservative 1950s proved to be a more difficult hurdle to overcome. Elvis’ gyrating hips and dancing during performances sparked severe criticism, but his velvet voice, handsome good looks and youthful enthusiasm endeared him to teenagers and more specifically, young women. Presley had the voice and the drive to become the next Frank Sinatra, and with the help of television, the world could see the next entertainment icon. From 1956-1958, Elvis appeared on CBS’s Stage Show, the Milton Berle Show, the Steve Allen Show and the crème de la crème Ed Sullivan Show. It seemed that all he touched turned to gold as he continued to produce Number One hits and Hollywood came calling. From 1956 to 1969, “The King of Rock and Roll” as he was dubbed, appeared in 31 film musicals, including Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, but spent little time on the road touring or performing. In 1968, he returned to the stage to produce the acclaimed ’68 Comeback Special on NBC, which in turn led to his lengthy stay in Las Vegas performing for rabid fans for years to come and a handful of national and international tours. Elvis was now a household name, was recently married and expecting his first child, but still lived in Memphis (for the most part).
Unfortunately, Presley had developed a substance abuse problem during his career, an issue that would haunt him until the end. He lived an eccentric life, owned numerous cars and airplanes, traveled with an entourage of friends and bodyguards and was frequently linked to drugs, women and booze. His celebrity, nonetheless, was continued to grow. Fans flocked to Las Vegas to see The King in the 1970s and continued to buy his albums as he produced an incredible nine Number One albums and 31 Number One singles during his lifetime. Elvis Presley died tragically of an apparent drug overdose on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42 at his home, Graceland, in Memphis on the eve of his next tour. His death was a shock to the world and vigils were held in his honor for months after and continue to be held at Graceland, now a museum and historic landmark, each year on the anniversary of his birth (January 8) and his death (August 16). Due to his untimely and alarming passing, relics from Elvis Presley’s career remain some of the most sought after in the entertainment industry. Elvis memorabilia, from his extravagant stage-worn jumpsuits to locks of his hair to autographed photographs to his “TCB” (Taking Care of Business) sunglasses, remain intriguing, unique and iconic pieces of rock and roll and American history.