Elvis Presley 1955-56
Elvis Presley signs a contract with Bob Neal, who becomes his manager.
Elvis, Scotty, and Bill continue touring on their own and in package shows with various country stars, including package tours of artists from the Hayride. Colonel Parker is involved. This includes touring with Hank Snow. The regular Hayride appearances continue. Drummer D.J. Fontana joins Elvis’ band. In the spring, Elvis fails to be accepted on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, a network television show. As always, Elvis’ live appearances have special appeal for the teenagers, especially the females. His unusual style, sexy moves, and good looks start to cause more and more excitement wherever he plays. Sometimes the crowds break through the barricades in near-riot behavior. Elvis gains more and more popularity and begins to receive national attention. Colonel Parker becomes more involved in Elvis’ career.
August 15, 1955
Elvis Presley signs a management contract with Hank Snow Attractions, which is owned equally by Snow and Colonel Tom Parker. Bob Neal remains involved as an advisor. Colonel Parker is to be Elvis’ exclusive manager from this time on, and Snow is soon no longer connected to Elvis.
November 20, 1955
Elvis signs his first contract with RCA Records
Elvis signs his first contract with RCA Records. Colonel Parker negotiates the sale of Elvis’ Sun contract to RCA, which includes his five Sun singles and his unreleased Sun material. The price is an unprecedented $40,000, with a $5,000 bonus for Elvis. RCA soon re-releases the five Sun singles on the RCA label. At the same time Elvis signs a contract with Hill and Range Publishing Company, which is to set up a separate firm called Elvis Presley Music, Inc. Elvis will share with Hill and Range the publishing ownership of songs bought by Hill and Range for him to record. Elvis is the hottest new star in the music business.
January 10, 1956
Two days after his twenty-first birthday, Elvis has his first recording session for RCA, held at their studio in Nashville. Among the songs laid to tape during this session is "Heartbreak Hotel."
The Jordanaires, a gospel quartet and popular country back-up group, begin working with Elvis in the studio during the first few RCA sessions and soon begin touring with him. They will also appear with him in several films and remain his main back-up group until the late sixties.
January 27, 1956
"Heartbreak Hotel" b/w "I Was the One" is released by RCA and sells over 300,000 copies in its first three weeks on the market. It is soon to go to number one on Billboard’s pop singles chart for eight weeks and hit number one on the country chart and number five on the R&B chart. It becomes the first Elvis single to sell over one million copies, thus earning Elvis his very first gold record award.
January 28, 1956
Elvis appears with Scotty, Bill, and D.J. on the Jackie Gleason-produced Stage Show, starring Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey on CBS. This is Elvis’ first network television appearance. He appears five more nights on Stage Show over the weeks ahead and makes minor waves nationally. The last of these six appearances is March 24. Traveling and personal appearances continue during this time, including the Louisiana Hayride appearances for which he is still under contract. Fame and “infamy” build.
As "Heartbreak Hotel" makes its climb up the charts on its way to number one, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" b/w "Mystery Train", Elvis' fifth and last single to be released on the Sun label, hits number one on Billboard’s national country singles chart. His first number one hit on a national chart.
March 13, 1956
RCA releases Elvis Presley, Elvis’ first album. The album soon goes to number one on Billboard’s pop album chart for ten weeks. It is the first Elvis album to reach over $1 million in sales, thus earning Elvis his first gold album award.
April 1, 1956
Elvis signs a seven-year movie contract with Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures
Elvis has a screen test for Paramount Studios in Hollywood. He lip synchs "Blue Suede Shoes" and he performs a scene from the as yet unmade film, The Rainmaker, a film he does not end up being in.
April 3, 1956
Elvis appears on The Milton Berle Show on ABC, which, for this particular broadcast, originates from the deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock.
April 6, 1956
Elvis signs a seven-year movie contract with Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures.
April 23 - May 9, 1956
Compared to the usual hysteria, Elvis has lukewarm acceptance for his two-week engagement at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. He is not exactly what the adult audience of Vegas gamblers relates to very well. During these two weeks, the single Heartbreak Hotel and the album Elvis Presley both hit number one on the Billboard pop charts.
Through all of this, the travel and personal appearances around the country and new record releases continue. The crowds get bigger and bigger, wilder and wilder. Elvis’ fame grows dramatically. Some of these shows have to end early due to fans’ storming the stage. Elvis creates pandemonium wherever he goes.
June 5, 1956
Elvis appears again on The Milton Berle Show
Elvis appears again on The Milton Berle Show, this time in the studio where the show usually originates, this time backed by the Jordanaires in addition to Scotty, Bill and D.J. Among his selections is a playfully sensuous performance of "Hound Dog" that drives the kids in the audience wild, and, the next day, has the press and some of the adult viewers appalled. It is one of his most controversial performances. This merely serves to fuel his seemingly unstoppable popularity even more.
Traveling and personal appearances and new record releases continue. By this time Elvis, with his sexy moves and black-influenced sound, is being condemned by certain factions of the “morally concerned” establishment and the religious community. But, the kids love it.
July 1, 1956
Elvis appears on The Steve Allen Show on NBC. Among his performances this night is a much toned down version of "Hound Dog". Allen has Elvis dressed in white tie and black tux with tails and has him sing the song to a live Basset hound, a tongue-in-cheek response to all controversy created by the Berle appearance the month before. Elvis good-naturedly goes along with it, but is not too happy about it. Elvis also appears in a cowboy comedy sketch with Allen, Imogene Coca and Andy Griffith.
Record releases, touring, and recording continue. The condemnation and controversy continue along with the ever-growing popularity. Ed Sullivan, who had said that he would never have the likes of Elvis Presley on his show, changes his tune when he sees the big ratings that Elvis attracts to the Berle and Allen shows. A three-appearance deal is worked out for $50,000 and is the highest amount ever paid to a performer, up to that time, for appearing on a variety show.
Elvis begins shooting his first movie, Love Me Tender on loan-out from Paramount to Twentieth Century Fox. It is originally titled The Reno Brothers, but is re-titled before its release to capitalize on Elvis’ sure-to-be-a-hit single from the soundtrack.
September 9, 1956
Elvis makes the first of three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, the top television program of the era. Elvis attracts the highest ratings ever for any television variety show. Character actor Charles Laughton hosts in place of Sullivan, who is recuperating from a car accident.
September 26, 1956
Elvis Presley Day is proclaimed in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis’ parents join him as he returns to the town of his birth as a big star. He performs two shows at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, the same fair at which he had performed at age 10. This time there are a hundred National Guardsmen surrounding the stage to control the crowds of excited fans.
By this time, souvenir merchandising using Elvis’ name, image, and likeness has become a big part of the Elvis phenomenon. Licensees will soon be producing as many as thirty different products including hats, T-shirts, jeans, kerchiefs, sneakers, shirts, blouses, belts, purses, billfolds, wallets, charm bracelets, necklaces, magazines, gloves, bookends, a statue, lipstick, cologne, stuffed hound dogs, stationery, sweaters, crockery, and more. Elvis and the Colonel are to blaze new trails in the area of celebrity merchandising. This is to be forever a part of the marketing of Elvis Presley, feeding a never-ending demand.
October 28, 1956
Elvis makes his second of three appearances on Ed Sullivan.
November 16, 1956
Love Me Tender
Elvis’ first movie, Love Me Tender premieres at the Paramount Theater in New York City, opening nationwide in the days following. It becomes a smash hit, and the critics’ reviews aren’t bad for his acting in this melodrama, which is set in the American South of the 1800’s Civil War era. The film has Elvis performing several songs, of course.
December 31, 1956
The front page of The Wall Street Journal reports that in the past few months Elvis merchandise has grossed $22 million in sales.
Elvis ends the pivotal year of his career, when regional popularity gave way to unprecedented national and international fame. The year of 1956 has seen the beginning of Elvis souvenir merchandising, the beginning of a successful movie career, huge record sales (five number one singles on the pop chart, two number one albums on the pop chart, and other hits), history-making television appearances, record-breaking personal appearances and more.
Elvis has become the primary symbol of the new youth culture in America. He has also become one of society’s most controversial figures. His unique blending of white country and gospel music, black R&B and gospel, white pop music, his particular brand of charisma and talent, and the resulting success and controversy, have helped him greatly to begin, without premeditation, a cycle of change in music and pop culture and the mores of American society. Nothing will ever be the same for Elvis Presley or for the world.
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