1935 - 1957


April 25, 1912
  Gladys Love Smith is born.

April 10, 1916
  Vernon Elvis Presley is born.

June, 1933
  Gladys Smith and Vernon Presley are married.

January 8, 1935
  In Tupelo, Mississippi, shortly before dawn, in a two room house built by her husband and her brother-in-law, Gladys Presley gives birth to twin sons. The first, Jessie Garon, is born dead. The second, Elvis Aaron, is born alive and healthy. Elvis would be their only child.

1935 - 1948
  Elvis grows up within a close-knit, working class family, consisting of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all live near one another in Tupelo. There is little money, but Vernon and Gladys do their best to provide for their son, who is the center of their lives. They move from one house to another in Tupelo. Elvis attends the Assembly of God Church with his family, and the music and preaching register deeply. Other influences are black bluesmen in the neighborhood and country music radio programs enjoyed by his family.

October 3, 1945
  Ten-year-old Elvis stands on a chair at a microphone and 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. Fifth prize is $5.00 and free admission to all the rides at the fair.

  Elvis’ parents cannot afford a bicycle that Elvis wants, so Gladys talks him into accepting a guitar instead. Elvis' first guitar costs $12.95 and is purchased at the Tupelo Hardware Company.

November 6, 1948
  Elvis plays his guitar and sings "Leaf on a Tree" for his Milam Junior High class in Tupelo as a farewell. Elvis and his parents pack their belongings in a trunk strapped to the roof of their 1939 Plymouth and move to Memphis, Tennessee in search of a better life economically. Other members of the Presley and Smith clan would follow.

  Elvis and his parents live in public housing or low rent homes in the poor neighborhoods of north Memphis. Life continues to be hard. Vernon and Gladys go from job to job and Elvis attends L.C. Humes High School. Elvis works at various jobs to help support himself and his parents. The Presley-Smith clan remains close-knit, and Elvis and his family attend the Assembly of God Church. The teenage Elvis continues to be known for singing with his guitar. He buys his clothes on Beale Street and he absorbs the black blues and gospel he hears there. He’s also a regular audience member at the all-night white, and black, gospel sings that are held downtown. He wears his hair long (compared to the day’s standards) and slick, and lets his sideburns grow. He’s really different from the other kids, a good-natured misfit. 

While at Humes High, Elvis nervously sings with his guitar at a student talent show. Much to his own amazement, he gets more applause than anyone else and wins, then performs an encore. The acceptance feels good

June 3, 1953
  Elvis graduates from Humes High School.

  Elvis works at Parker Machinists Shop right after graduation. That summer he drops by The Memphis Recording Service, home of the Sun label and makes a demo acetate of "My Happiness" and "That’s When Your Heartaches Begin" for a cost of about $4.00. (The studio came to be known as Sun Studio though never officially named that until many years later. For simplicity this text uses the name Sun Studio.) The studio owner isn’t in, so his assistant, Marion Keisker handles the session. Elvis wants to see what his voice sounds like on a record and he has aspirations to become a professional singer. He takes the acetate home, and reportedly gives it to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present. By the fall, he is working at Precision Tool Company.

January, 1954
  Elvis makes another demo acetate at Sun. Sam Phillips, the owner, is in this time and, like Marion Keisker, is intrigued by this unusual looking and sounding young man.

April 20, 1954
  Elvis changes jobs again, going to work for Crown Electric Company. At Crown, he does various jobs, including driving a delivery truck and delivering supplies to job sites. He also goes to night school and studies to be an apprentice electrician.

June 6, 1954
  At Marion Keisker’s suggestion, Sam Phillips calls Elvis into the studio to try singing a song Sam hopes to put out on record. The song is "Without You" and Elvis does not sing it to Sam’s satisfaction. Sam asks Elvis what he can sing, and Elvis runs through a number of popular tunes. Sam is impressed enough to team Elvis up with local musicians Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass) to see if they, together, can come up with something worthwhile.

July 4, 1954
  Elvis meets Scotty and Bill, but nothing really clicks until July 5, when after a tedious session, Elvis and the guys break into a sped-up version of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right." This song, backed with Blue Moon of Kentucky becomes the first of five singles Elvis will release on the Sun label.

Summer 1954
  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 and other smalltime gigs locally and throughout the South, enjoying moderate success with the records and personal appearances.

October 2, 1954
  Elvis’ one appearance on the Grand Ole Opry doesn’t go over particularly well, with one of the Opry officials reportedly suggesting that Elvis go back to driving a truck. The Opry is very important at this time. This is a painful disappointment in Elvis' early career.

Elvis, Scotty, and Bill continue to record and to travel, and they their day jobs in mid-October 1954.

October 16, 1954
  They appear for the first time on the Louisiana Hayride, a live Saturday night country music radio show originating in Shreveport, Louisiana, broadcast over KWKH Radio. The show is the Grand Ole Opry's chief competitor, carried by 190 stations in thirteen states. This leads to regular appearances on the Hayride and, in November, Elvis signs a one-year contract for fifty-two Saturday night appearances. This is a great break, but as Elvis’ popularity grows, his commitment to the Hayride prevents him from traveling much outside the South to further his career on a larger scale.

October 31, 1954
  Elvis meets Oscar Davis.

January 1, 1955
  Elvis signs a contract with Bob Neal, who becomes his manager.

January 15, 1955
  During Elvis' association with the Hayride he meets “Colonel” Tom Parker, a promoter and manager connected with various acts, and connected with the Louisiana Hayride. Parker is also the manager for country star, Hank Snow. A previous Parker client is country star Eddy Arnold.

  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 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. 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 $35,000, 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."

January 27, 1956
  "Heartbreak Hotel" b/w "I Was the One" is shipped 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.

February, 1956
  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 23, 1956
  RCA ships 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.

March 25, 1956
  Elvis arrives in Los Angeles to begin a two-part screen test for Paramount Studios in Hollywood on the 26th and 27th. He lip syncs "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. Elvis leaves on March 28th.

April 3, 1956
  Elvis appears on The Milton Berle Show on NBC, which, for this particular broadcast, originates from the deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock.

April 2 - 6, 1956
  Elvis signs a one-picture movie contract with Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures. The contract includes options for six more 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, 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.

 July 2, 1956
  The Jordanaires, a gospel quartet and popular country back-up group, begin working with Elvis in the studio during his 4th RCA session 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.

August 1956
  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 receiving 80% of the National Viewing Audience. 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 15, 1956
  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.

January 6, 1957
  Elvis makes his third and final appearance on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town Show. It is for this appearance that Elvis is seen only from the waist up. It’s funny that after all of his television appearances the previous year, such censorship comes at this time. It is particularly amusing that this guideline remains in place during Elvis’ performance of the gospel standard, Peace in the Valley, one of five songs he performs on this Sullivan appearance. Ed Sullivan himself helps diffuse some of the controversy surrounding Elvis when he comes out on stage to thank Elvis and tells the studio audience and millions of American television viewers that “this is a decent, fine boy” and what a delight he has been to work with when appearing on the show. Ed Sullivan is the most influential person on television audiences and one of the most powerful people in the television industry at the time.

Personal appearances, recording sessions, record releases, controversy, and publicity continue. 

 January, 1957
  Elvis begins production of his second movie, Loving You. Elvis also begins dying his hair black.

February 3, 1957
  The New York Times runs a story entitled, "Presley Records a Craze in Soviet Union." Elvis records are not legally available in the Soviet Union. The article tells of bootleg recordings being cut on discarded X-ray plates and being sold in Leningrad on the black market for fifty rubles (about twelve and a half dollars) each, a lot of money at the time.

March 1957
  Elvis buys Graceland Mansion for himself, his parents, and his paternal grandmother to live in for $102,500. It will be ready for them to move into on May 16th, 1957. Elvis doesn't spend his first night in Graceland until June 26th, 1957.

April 1957
  While touring with his show, Elvis performs outside the United States for the first time when he appears in Canada: two shows in Toronto on April 2 and two shows in Ottawa on April 3.

May, 1957
  Elvis begins work on his third motion picture, Jailhouse Rock for MGM.

July 9, 1957
  Elvis' second motion picture, Loving You, premieres in Memphis. It opened nationwide on July 30 and was on the Variety’s National Box Office Survey for 4 weeks peaking at #7. Elvis skipped the premier but took Anita and his parents to see a private midnight screening. Hit records include the title song and the classic smash "Teddy Bear".

Traveling, touring, record releases, and personal appearances continue.

August 31, 1957
  Elvis performs in Vancouver. This is the third Canadian city he has performed in, and marks the last time he will perform in concert outside the United States.

September 27, 1957
  Elvis returns once more to the town of his birth to perform. This time it is a benefit for the proposed Elvis Presley Youth Recreation Center in Tupelo, Mississippi. The grounds include Elvis’ birthplace home. He will donate regularly to the center for the rest of his life. (The center is still used by the general community today. The birthplace home is open for tours, and there is a small museum and a memorial chapel.)

October 17, 1957
  Jailhouse Rock, Elvis’ third motion picture, premieres in Memphis. Jailhouse Rock opens nationally on November 18 and peaks at #3. It was #14 for the year, and by 1969 its earnings in the US and Canada were roughly comparable with those of The Wizard of Oz. The title song is a smash hit. Years later, this film will be considered one of Elvis’ best acting performances, surpassed only by King Creole, which is to follow in 1958. Jailhouse Rock will come to be considered the ultimate classic of all “rock opera” movies, and the "Jailhouse Rock" production number in the film is to be recognized as the grandfather of pop/rock music videos, a music format to become widely popular by the 1980’s.

November 10, 11 1957
  Elvis performs shows in Hawaii for the first time. This would also be his last public appearance before entering the army.

December, 1957
  Elvis and family enjoy their first Christmas at Graceland and Elvis officially receives his draft notice, a day he has known would be coming soon.

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