Who would have thought that Elvis Presley would make the list of the 100 most influential people in American history? I certainly would not have put him there, but apparently I am proven wrong by facts of history. He is considered to be “one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century” and is referred to as “the King of Rock and Roll” or “the King”.
I was a pre-teen when Elvis became an instant star. I remember the excitement of the times and seeing my classmates wearing skirts with Elvis Presley prints. I remember the heartbreak when Elvis was drafted into the army and the joy when he was released. I could not understand why there was so much emotion. I was stubborn enough that I put my allegiance on Pat Boone just to be different. I learned to appreciate Presley’s voice much later.
“Presley is one of the most celebrated and influential musicians of the 20th century. Commercially successful in many genres, including pop, blues and gospel, he is the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music, with estimated record sales of around 600 million units worldwide. He won three Grammys, also receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36, and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame. Forbes named Elvis Presley as the 2nd top earning dead celebrity with $55 million as of 2011.”
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Gladys Smith Love (April 25, 1912-August 14, 1958) and Vernon Elvis Presley (April 10, 1916-June 26, 1979). Jesse Garon Presley, his identical twin brother, was delivered stillborn 35 minutes before Elvis. As an only child, Elvis was close to both of his parents, particularly his mother. They were members of an Assembly of God church. The Presley “ancestry was primarily a Western European mix, including Scots-Irish, Scottish, German, and some French Norman” – plus “possibly a Cherokee Native American.” The family was not well off but “often relied on help from neighbors and government food assistance.”
When he was thirteen years old, his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where his music career began in 1954 when he recorded a song at Sun Records. Presley popularized rockabilly music, “an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues.” Colonel Tom Parker managed Presley’s career for more than two decades after he arranged to acquire Presley’s contract for RCA Victor.
Elvis Presley became an overnight success when his “first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, was released in January 1956 and became a number-one hit in the United States. He was regarded as the leading figure of rock and roll after a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records. His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines that coincided with the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, made him enormously popular – and controversial.”
Presley made his film debut in Love Me Tender in November 1956 and was drafted into the military in 1958 where he became a sergeant. He returned to his recording career after leaving the service and was very successful. In the 1960s he began making Hollywood movies and their accompanying sound tracks. He returned to the stage after seven years; this led to an extended gig in Las Vegas and some tours. He was featured in 1973 in the first globally broadcast concert via satellite, Aloha from Hawaii.
In 1967 Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu; the couple had one child, Lisa Marie Presley before divorcing in 1973. Presley had one granddaughter, Danielle Riley Keough.
Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, in Memphis, Tennessee, at age 42, after “several years of prescription drug abuse damaged his health.” He is interred in Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.