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King of Rock and Roll: Elvis Presley

The King, himself

ELVIS PRESLEY, popularly known as the King of Rock & Roll, or simply the King was one of the dominant performers of rock and roll music from the mid-1950s up to his death. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in the United States, and subsequently moved to Memphis as a teenager where he recorded his first single at Sun Records only a few months after graduating from high school at the age of 18. He recorded the Rock and Roll song “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” as a gift for his mother, Gladys. Little did he, or anyone around him know the 18 year old would go on to become one of the worlds most recognized musicians in a span of a few years.

He auditioned and failed in various places including bands and quartets and began working as a truck driver. He played a few local gigs in the hopes of being discovered, like when he recorded his tapes at Sun Records, however here to he faced rejection, and was told by a country singer that he should quit trying because he would “Never make it as a singer”.

After this, Elvis’ success was unprecedented in the history of music, with wild performances and crazed crowds, huge television appearances for audiences of over 60 million viewers, a world record at the time. His performance of his upcoming single “Love Me Tender” resulted in over a million advance orders on the Ed Sullivan Show of the record. He also made his film debut with the film “Love Me Tender” which did amazingly at the Box Office, featuring Elvis in an acting and musical role.

In 1958, Elvis was drafted into the US Army, and trained as a private. In early June, he lost his mother, after which he was devastated, and was deployed to Germany in October.

After his military service, he returned to the US and was honourably discharged, in 1960 and began recording his new albums, with each reaching top of the charts, even his gospel albums. He also worked on a heavy filmmaking schedule, making 27 films over the decade, with all of them being commercially successful, although derided by critics. It was quoted as being said that “A Presley film was the only sure thing in Hollywood” at the time. In May 1967, Elvis married his fiancé, Priscilla Beaulieu. However, by 1967, his music had begun commercially under performing, however in 1968. Elvis made a comeback with the ’68 Comeback Special, a show on NBC that opened to over 42% of the television viewing audience. The album “Elvis” reached the top 10 on the Billboard charts.

Buoyed by his Christmas Special experience, Presley engaged in a prolific string of recording sessions at the American Sound Studio, leading to acclaim for Elvis in Memphis. MGM re-filmed Presley, in 1972, this time for Elvis on Tour, which went on to win the Golden Globe for best documentary that year.

In addition to becoming one of the first artists to successfully deliver R&B to a white audience, Elvis Presley was also one of the first artists whose stardom (for better or worse) came in no small part from TV -- hip moves were not something you could see on a daily basis on the radio. Elvis Presley was not much of a polarizing figure anymore; he became another predictable mass-market entertainer, an individual who was of little interest to a rock audience that had expanded greatly with the arrival of new sounds by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan.

You did not need to want to be a rock n roll star, or even a musician, to want to be Elvis Presley--which, in the end, meant being loose, undisciplined, but also a part of the common people. He was inseparable from Rock and Roll by the end of his career. Elvis was Rock and Roll, and Rock and Roll was Elvis, and all of Rock and Roll bowed before the King

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