Elvis Presley 1935-54
April 25, 1912
Gladys Love Smith is born.
April 10, 1916
Vernon Elvis Presley is born.
Gladys Smith and Vernon Presley are married.
January 8, 1935
In Tupelo, Mississippi, shortly before dawn, in a two-room house built by her husband and her brother-in-law, Gladys Presley gives birth to identical twin sons. The first, Jessie Garon, is born dead. The second, Elvis Aaron, is born alive and healthy. Elvis would be their only child.
1935 - 1948
Elvis grows up within a close-knit, working class family, consisting of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all live near one another in Tupelo. There is little money, but Vernon and Gladys do their best to provide for their son, who is the center of their lives. They move from one house to another in Tupelo. Elvis attends the Assembly of God Church with his family, and the music and preaching register deeply. Other influences are black bluesmen in the neighborhood and country music radio programs enjoyed by his family.
Ten-year-old Elvis stands on a chair at a microphone and sings "Old Shep" in a youth talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, held in Tupelo. The talent show is broadcast over WELO Radio. Second prize is $5.00 and free admission to all the rides at the fair.
Elvis’ parents cannot afford a bicycle that Elvis wants, so Gladys talks him into accepting a guitar instead. Elvis' first guitar costs $12.95 and is purchased at the Tupelo Hardware Company. The bicycle would have to wait until Christmas of 1947.
Elvis plays his guitar and sings "Leaf on a Tree" for his Milam Junior High class in Tupelo as a farewell. Elvis and his parents pack their belongings in a trunk strapped to the roof of their 1939 Plymouth and move to Memphis, Tennessee in search of a better life economically. Other members of the Presley and Smith clan would follow.
Elvis and his parents live in public housing or low rent homes in the poor neighborhoods of north Memphis. Life continues to be hard. Vernon and Gladys go from job to job, and Elvis attends The Christine School, then L.C. Humes High School. Elvis works at various jobs to help support himself and his parents. The Presley-Smith clan remains close-knit, and Elvis and his family attend the Assembly of God Church. The teenage Elvis continues to be known for singing with his guitar. He buys his clothes on Beale Street and he absorbs the black blues and gospel he hears there. He’s also a regular audience member at the all-night white, and black, gospel sings that are held downtown. He wears his hair long (compared to the day’s standards) and slick, and lets his sideburns grow. He’s really different from the other kids, a good-natured misfit.
While at Humes High, Elvis nervously sings with his guitar at a student talent show. Much to his own amazement, he gets more applause than anyone else and wins, then performs an encore. The acceptance feels good.
June 3, 1953
Elvis graduates from Humes High School.
Elvis works at Parker Machinists Shop right after graduation. That summer he drops by The Memphis Recording Service, home of the Sun label and makes a demo acetate of "My Happiness" and "That’s When Your Heartaches Begin" for a cost of about $4.00. (The studio came to be known as Sun Studio though never officially named that until many years later. For simplicity this text uses the name Sun Studio.) The studio owner isn’t in, so his assistant, Marion Keisker handles the session. Elvis wants to see what his voice sounds like on a record and he has aspirations to become a professional singer. He takes the acetate home, and reportedly gives it to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present. By the fall, he is working at Precision Tool Company, and soon changes jobs again, going to work for Crown Electric Company. At Crown, he does various jobs, including driving a delivery truck. He also goes to night school and studies to be an electrician.
Elvis makes another demo acetate at Sun. Sam Phillips, the owner, is in this time and, like Marion Keisker, is intrigued by this unusual looking and sounding young man.
At Marion Keisker’s suggestion, Sam Phillips calls Elvis into the studio to try singing a song Sam hopes to put out on record. The song is "Without You" and Elvis does not sing it to Sam’s satisfaction. Sam asks Elvis what he can sing, and Elvis runs through a number of popular tunes. Sam is impressed enough to team Elvis up with local musicians Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass) to see if they, together, can come up with something worthwhile. Nothing really clicks until July 5, when after a tedious session, Elvis and the guys break into a sped-up version of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right." This song, backed with Blue Moon of Kentucky becomes the first of five singles Elvis will release on the Sun label. Elvis, Scotty, and Bill start performing together, with Scotty acting as the group’s manager. Elvis continues to work at Crown Electric as the group starts to play small clubs and other smalltime gigs locally and throughout the South, enjoying moderate success with the records and personal appearances. Elvis’ one appearance on the Grand Ole Opry doesn’t go over particularly well, with one of the Opry officials reportedly suggesting that Elvis go back to driving a truck. The Opry is very important at this time. This is a painful disappointment in Elvis' early career.
Elvis, Scotty, and Bill continue to record and to travel.
October 16, 1954
They appear for the first time on the Louisiana Hayride, a live Saturday night country music radio show originating in Shreveport, Louisiana, broadcast over KWKH Radio. The show is the Grand Ole Opry's chief competitor, carried by 190 stations in thirteen states. This leads to regular appearances on the Hayride and, in November, Elvis signs a one-year contract for fifty-two Saturday night appearances. This is a great break, but as Elvis’ popularity grows, his commitment to the Hayride prevents him from traveling much outside the South to further his career on a larger scale. During Elvis' association with the Hayride he meets “Colonel” Tom Parker, a promoter and manager connected with various acts, and connected with the Louisiana Hayride. Parker is also the manager for country star, Hank Snow. A previous Parker client is country star Eddy Arnold.
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