Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in East Tupelo, Mississippi. His mother Gladys Love Smith worked as a sewing machine operator and his father Vernon had several low-paying jobs. Elvis had an identical twin brother that was stillborn and given the name Jesse Garon. Vernon built a two-room shotgun house for the family. They lived there only three years, and then Gladys and Elvis had to move in with relatives while Vernon served a jail sentence for an eight dollar check forgery. Money troubles and further problems with the authorities again forced the family to move, this time to Memphis in September 1948 when Elvis was 13 years old.
Elvis started performing at an early age. He made his first public performance at age ten entering a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. On his eleventh birthday, Elvis received a guitar from his parents. It was not what he had wanted, but it was all they could afford at the time. Over the course of the next year he received lessons on the basics of guitar from his paternal uncle Vestor. By 1949, the Presleys lived in a public housing development in one of the poorer sections of Memphis. Elvis practiced his guitar playing in several places throughout the development, and eventually played in a five-piece band with other tenants. Presley was always considered shy and possessed sincere stage-fright. He attended and graduated from L.C. Humes High School. It was there in 1952 that he entered his schoolÂ¹s annual Minstrel Show, where he won by receiving the most applause. Elvis worked small jobs while in school, ushering for Loews State Theater. After graduation, he worked driving trucks for the Crown Electric Company. A man of strong faith, Elvis was largely influenced by the music he heard while attending the Assembly of God, Pentecostal church with his parents.
Rolling Stone wrote: “Gospel pervaded Elvis’ character and was a defining and enduring influence all of his days.” In his youth, Presley also listened to local radio and went to record stores that had jukeboxes and listening booths. He would listen for hours. However, he could also be found at the all-night black and white gospel sings or attending the Memphis Symphony Orchestra concerts, as well as the Metropolitan Opera. The Memphis area held a strong tradition of blues music and sported many hillbilly venues. Elvis enjoyed and was influenced by both styles. Presley once said, “I just loved music. Music period.” Elvis Presley did not read music, but rather played entirely by ear. Presley first stepped inside a recording studio in July of 1953. He initially went to record some songs as a gift for his mother. While he didn’t impress anyone initially, almost one year later (June 1954) while playing around during a break from recording, Sam Phillips of Sun Records heard what Presley could really do and asked him to start over . Phillips began recording and released “ThatÂ¹s All Right (Mama)” on air on July 8, 1954 through DJ Dewey Phillips. Radio listeners immediately began clogging the phone lines trying to find out who the new voice was. PresleyÂ¹s career was launched. His contract with Sun Records was sold in 1955 to RCA Victor. In 1956 Elvis started appearing on television shows and within the year he was an international sensation.
Elvis served in the US Army from March of 1958 until his honorable discharge in March of 1960. He had achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. During his military service Elvis’ mother became seriously ill and he was granted emergency leave to be with her. She died of heart failure two days after he arrived home at the age of forty-six. Presley was devastated. From 1956 until March of 1960, Elvis made 13 guest appearances on television shows. From 1968 to 1977, Presley made three television specials and performed two concert films. He also started starring in movies during this time and by the 1960’s was one of the highest paid actors. He made 31 films as an actor. Presley’s record sales grew rapidly in the late 1950’s. During his career Elvis made 81 albums, released 53 singles and 16 extended play singles. He has had 150 different albums and singles that have been certified gold, platinum or multi platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. He has had 149 songs appear on BillboardÂ¹s top 100, 114 songs were in the top 40, and 40 compositions were in the top ten. Finally, Elvis had 18 songs go to number one on the charts. Elvis is commonly called ‘The King of Rock and Roll.’ Presley received 14 Grammy nominations and won three. He regularly broke concert attendance records and record sales. In 1970 he was named ‘One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation.’ He was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1971 at the age of 36. To date he has been inducted into four music halls of fame.
Elvis Presley died prematurely at age 42 in Memphis Tennessee, from poor health and the effects of a long-term dependency on drugs. He remains one of the best-selling and most influential artists in the history of popular music.