The early years
In Tupelo, Mississippi, Gladys Presley gives birth to identical twin sons. The first, Jesse Garon, is stillborn. The second, Elvis Aaron, is born alive and healthy.
Elvis grows up within a poor family, which moves frequently around the Tupelo area.
At ten years old, Elvis 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. Click on any photo to see an enlarged view.
Elvis’s parents, unable to buy a bicycle that Elvis wants, talk him into accepting a guitar instead: purchased for $12.95 at the Tupelo Hardware Company.
Elvis plays his guitar and sings “Leaf on a Tree” for his Milam Junior High class in Tupelo. Elvis and his parents move to Memphis, Tennessee.
Elvis and his parents live in public housing or low rent homes in the poor neighborhoods of north Memphis. While attending The Christine School and Humes High School, Elvis works at various jobs to help support himself and his parents. He spends much time on Beale Street and frequents the all-night white, and black, gospel sings that are held downtown.
Elvis graduates from Humes High School.
After graduation, Elvis works at Parker Machinists Shop. That summer, at The Memphis Recording Service-home of the Sun label-he makes a demo acetate of “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” for a cost of about $4.00 and gives it to his mother as belated birthday present. Later, he works at Precision Tool Company, then changes jobs again, going to work for Crown Electric Company where he drives a delivery truck. He attends night school to be an electrician.
Elvis makes another demo acetate at Memphis Recording Service: the songs are “Casual Love Affair” and “I’ll Never Stand in Your Way”. Sam Phillips, the owner, takes an interest in Elvis.
Sam Phillips calls Elvis into the studio to sing “Without You” but feels the boy doesn’t do a very good job. But Phillips is impressed enough to team Elvis with local musicians Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass) to see if they, together, could come up with something worthwhile. In frustration, during a July 5 recording session, Elvis and the group perform a speeded up version of “That’s All Right”. This song, and the flipside “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” would be the first of five singles Elvis would 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. Elvis makes an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry and is told by one of the officials that he should stick to truck driving.
Elvis, Scotty, and Bill continue to record and to travel. They appear for the first time on the “Louisiana Hayride”, a live Saturday night country music radio which is the Grand Ole Opry’s chief competitor. This leads to regular appearances on the “Hayride” and, in November, Elvis signs a one-year contract for fifty-two Saturday night appearances. During this period, he meets “Colonel” Tom Parker, a promoter and manager connected with various acts. Elvis signs a contract with Bob Neal, who becomes his manager.
Elvis, Scotty, and Bill continue touring on their own and in packaged tours of artists from the “Hayride” with Colonel Parker involved.Drummer D.J. Fontana joins Elvis’s band. In the spring, Elvis fails to be accepted on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts”, a network television show. Nevertheless, Elvis gains in popularity and begins to receive national attention, leading Parker to become more directly involved in Elvis’s career.
Elvis signs a management contract with Hank Snow Attractions, which is owned equally by Snow and Colonel Parker - who will be Elvis’s manager from this time on and Hank Snow ceases to be involved.
Parker negotiates the sale of Elvis’s Sun contract to RCA (including Elvis’s five Sun singles and his unreleased Sun material) for $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 creates Elvis Presley Music, Inc. As of late 1955, Elvis is without doubt the hottest new star in the music business.
Elvis has his first recording session for RCA in their Nashville studio. Among the songs is “Heartbreak Hotel”. During these sessions, the Jordanaires join with Elvis soon begin touring with him.
“Heartbreak Hotel” is released by RCA and sells over 100,000 copies a week for the first three weeks, climbs to number one on Billboard’s pop singles chart for eight weeks, number one on the country chart, and number five on the R&B chart. It becomes Elvis’s first gold record.
Elvis appears on Jackie Gleason’s “Stage Show”, starring Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey on CBS. This is Elvis’s first network television appearance. He appears on six weekly “Stage Shows” in a row while continuing the “Louisiana Hayride” appearances.
While “Heartbreak Hotel” is still climbing the charts, RCA releases “Mystery Train” and “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” - the last recording on the Sun label. This release immediately hits number one on Billboard’s country singles chart.
RCA releases Elvis’ first album which quickly turned gold.
Elvis screen tests at Paramount Studios for a role in “The Rainmaker.” He was not cast in the film.
Elvis appears on “The Milton Berle Show”.
Hal B. Wallis and Paramount Pictures sign Elvis for a seven-year contract.
Elvis receives a tepid response from audiences at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas during a two-week engagement. But his numerous public performances and record sales establish him as a sensation.
Elvis appears again on “The Milton Berle Show” and performs “Hound Dog.” His onstage movements are condemned by certain factions of the conservative establishment.
Elvis appears on “The Steve Allen Show” on NBC and performs a more conservative version of “Hound Dog” - dressed in white tie and black tux with tails. The popularity of Elvis forces Ed Sullivan to change his mind about refusing airtime for the singer, and signs him to a three-appearance deal.
Paramount loans Elvis to Twentieth Century Fox to play a featured role in a western called “The Reno Brothers.” It is retitled “Love Me Tender” after the song Elvis performs for the soundtrack’s single.
Elvis makes the first of his three appearances on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town Show” and attracts the highest ratings ever for a variety show.
“Elvis Presley Day” is proclaimed in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis’s parents join him as he returns to the town of his birth as a big star. He performs two shows that day at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show- the same fair at which he had performed at age 10. Elvis souvenir merchandising begins to hit the store shelves. By the end of the year, this merchandise will reach $22 million in sales.
Elvis makes his second of three appearances on the Sullivan show.
“Love Me Tender” opens on this date and becomes a hit.
Elvis makes his third and final appearance on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town Show.” Although uncensored for his two previous performances, during this show Elvis is seen by the viewing audience only from the waist up.
Elvis begins production of his second movie, “Loving You”.
Elvis buys Graceland Mansion for himself, his parents, and his paternal grandmother to live in.
For the first time, Elvis performs outside the United States: in Toronto and Ottawa.
Elvis is loaned to MGM to make his third film: “Jailhouse Rock.”
Elvis’s second motion picture, “Loving You” opens and reaches the top ten at the box office. The soundtrack single featuring the title song and “Teddy Bear” is released.
Elvis performs in Vancouver - the last time he would perform in concert outside the United States.
Elvis returns to Tupelo to perform at a benefit for the proposed Elvis Presley Youth Recreation Center -he would donate regularly to the center for the rest of his life.
Elvis’s third motion picture “Jailhouse Rock” premieres in Memphis and opens nationally the following month.
For the first time, Elvis visits and performs shows in Hawaii.
Elvis receives his draft notice.
Elvis films and records the soundtrack album for his fourth motion picture “King Creole”.
In Memphis, Elvis performs his last stage performances until after his army release in 1960. His tour of duty takes him out of the spotlight for nearly two years - and many music critics consider Elvis’ induction to be the end of his career.
Elvis Presley is inducted into the U.S. Army at the Memphis Draft Board.
Elvis gets his G.I. haircut at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.
Private Presley arrives at Fort Hood, Texas for six month’s basic training. His parents move to a temporary home near the base.
After basic training, Elvis has a recording session while on leave.
“King Creole”, Elvis’s fourth motion picture opens nationally. It is regarded generally as his best serious film.
Gladys Presley becomes ill and is hospitalized with acute hepatitis. Elvis is granted emergency leave and arrives in Memphis on the afternoon of August 12th. She dies in the early hours of August 14 . She was only 46. She is laid to rest at Forest Hill Cemetery, a few miles down the road from Graceland.
Elvis reports back to Fort Hood.
Elvis sails aboard the USS Randall to West Germany, arriving on October 1. He will be stationed in Friedberg for 18 months, maintaining an off-base residence in Bad Nauheim.
For his 24th birthday, Elvis is interviewed on the telephone by Dick Clark on his “American Bandstand” show on ABC-TV.
On a two-week leave, Elvis visits Munich and Paris. Despite what the critics say, Elvis’ career is kept alive by the careful promotions and record releases of Colonel Parker.
Captain Joseph Beaulieu is transferred from Texas to Weisbaden Air Force Base near Friedberg, accompanied by his wife and children, including his fourteen-and-a-half- year-old stepdaughter, Priscilla Ann. Through a mutual friend, Priscilla is invited to a party at Elvis’s home.