Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in a shotgun house in Tupelo, Mississippi to parents Vernon Elvis Presley and Gladys Love Smith. His twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley was stillborn. Elvis’ early life was difficult. His father was sent to prison when he was just three for forgery and Elvis and his mother was forced to move in with his father’s parents. Vernon was released from prison early; however, the family lived in poverty during much of Elvis’ young life.
Elvis began singing locally at the age of ten when he entered a local singing contest. He won second place and the following year received a guitar for his birthday. When Elvis was 13 the family moved to Memphis, where Elvis would spend much of his teenage years in the African-American section of town and particularly on Beale Street. During these years he found it difficult to fit in with the other kids who often ridiculed him because he tended to be shy, was known to be a mama’s boy and in many regards, was quite different than his peers.
After graduating from high school he began working at a machinists shop and later drove an electrical truck. In 1953 Elvis paid to record two demos at Sun Studios and presented to his mother as a birthday present. By 1954 he had paid to have two more demos recorded, which came to the attention of Sam Phillips, who called Elvis into the studio. Initially, the meeting did not amount to much; however, after Elvis began singing blues Phillips released “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Almost immediately Elvis became a local hit and began to tour in Tennessee and beyond.
His first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry provided a mixed review: some were quite impressed with his appearance while many of the executives of the famous show felt that he would never amount to much. Nevertheless, Elvis continued with his music releasing more singles and continuing to tour, mostly around the South. He made an appearance on the Louisiana Hayride, a live radio broadcast, in 1954. Almost immediately his music began to reach the top of the charts and he signed a weekly performance contract.
Around the same time, he signed with a management company headed up by “Colonel” Tom Parker. Elvis’ career really began to take off and he signed a deal with RCA in 1955. He appeared on television for the first time in 1956 on the Dorsey Shows and later with Milton Berle. His infamous gyrations while performing came to the forefront of speculation during this time; however, it did little to dim his growing popularity. Parker negotiated a multi-film deal with MGM and Elvis began his film career with Love Me Tender in 1956. Teenagers, in particular, began to dominate Elvis’ fan base and by the time he received a draft notice in December 1957, Elvis had reached the peak of his career. In March of 1958, he entered the Army for a two-year stint and was almost immediately shipped to Germany where he attained the rank of sergeant. It was here that he would meet his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu, who was only 14 at the time.
After being honorably discharged following his two-year stint, Elvis returned to the U.S. and resume his music and film career. For much of the 1960’s his career was dominated by his musical films, all of which were negotiated by the Colonel. Determined to get back to his music career, Elvis appeared in a televised performance known as the ’68 Comeback Special. In the years following he appeared in several sold-out live performances in Las Vegas. Further returning to his roots, Elvis recorded several country hits during the last years of his life and career. His last live concert was in Indiana on June 26, 1977.
He died at Graceland in Memphis on August 16, 1977.