Elvis Presley

1935 - 1977

Elvis Aaron Presley, a singer and actor, was one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century, who is renowned as an early pioneer of rock-and-roll music. Presley is considered by many to be the genre's greatest performer.

Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley attended Pentecostal churches in his youth where he was exposed to gospel music. He also listened to blues and country-and-western music and won a talent contest at the age of ten for a rendition of the ballad “Old Shep,” written by country singer Red Foley.

Following high school, Presley worked as a truck driver. In 1953, while recording some songs as a birthday gift for his mother at a Memphis, Tennessee, studio, Presley impressed the studio manager with his unique vocal style, demonstrating both outstanding range and influences of black American music. This experience led to recordings with studio owner Sam Phillips through his record label, Sun Records. At age 21 Presley recorded his first songs for a major record label, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), including the original and popular “Heartbreak Hotel” (1956). He followed with the enormously successful double-sided single record “Hound Dog”/“Don't Be Cruel” (1956) and “All Shook Up” (1957).

From 1956 to 1958, Presley starred in four motion pictures, all of which featured his soundtracks: Love Me Tender (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957), Loving You (1957), and King Creole (1958). After serving in the United States Armed Forces from 1958 to 1960, Presley appeared in numerous musical films, including Flaming Star (1960), Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), Viva Las Vegas (1964), Roustabout (1964), Frankie and Johnny (1966), and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968). His public appeal faded during this period as his rebellious image gave way to the more wholesome persona developed in his film roles.

During the 1970s, facing personal difficulties, including a long-term drug dependency, Presley retreated from public appearances and was rarely seen outside his Memphis mansion, known as Graceland. His death, a subject of some controversy, has been officially attributed to heart failure, a likely result of Presley's chronic overuse of prescription barbiturates.

Known as the King of Western Bop and the Hillbilly Cat, Presley fused sounds of country music with black rhythm-and-blues influences and what was then the new rock-and-roll style. His unprecedented, electrically charged performances helped make Presley one of the first mass idols of United States popular culture. He inspired countless musical artists. His many hit songs include “Love me Tender” (1956), “Blue Suede Shoes” (1956), and “Hard Headed Woman” (1958).