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The Life and Music of Elvis Presley

Last updated on December 25th, 2021 at 10:15 pm

Elvis Presley, or the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, is known to many, both young and old to be one of the most iconic American musicians of all time. Though he came from humble beginnings, he rose in fame and fortune over the course of his career that ended too soon.

Modest Beginnings

On January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Aron Presley, though he later changed the spelling of his name to Elvis Aaron Presley, was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley. He was not supposed to be an only child, his twin brother, Jessie Garon was stillborn. 

Elvis had a modest upbringing with early influences from his father, Vernon Presley, who worked manual labor jobs to support the family, and his mother Gladys Presley, who made sure he was raised with a strong faith in God.

It was in the church where Elvis first found his interest in music and more specifically his love for gospel music. Although his taste for music would change over the years, his influence on the gospel would stay with him.

While the family did not have much in the way of money, his mother found a way to give him his first guitar when he was just eleven years old. It was with this guitar that he would delve into the world of music.

A few short years later in 1948, the Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee to search for better working opportunities. It was there that Elvis attended and graduated from Humes High School, but not before he won the talent show for his musical performance.

After graduation, Elvis picked up jobs while also pursuing his musical talents. He was working as a truck driver for an electric company right before his music career began. 

Elvis was given a guitar-shaped key to the city by Mayor James L. Ballard when he returned to Tupelo, Mississippi.

Rise to Stardom

While working for the electric company, Elvis recorded demos of a few of his songs to give to his mother. During this time is when he met Sam Phillips, who was the owner of Sun Records.

It was still sometime later that Phillips decided to bring Elvis into Sun Records and began working and molding him into the musician he would become. Little did anyone know that it was through this collaboration that the King of Rock and Roll was born.

Sam Phillips teamed Elvis up with Scotty Moore, guitarist, and Bill Black, the bassist, to see if they would be a good fit. While it may not have looked promising in the beginning, once they worked with a new version of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right Mama” they knew they had something special.

The song Elvis created with Bill Black and Scotty Moore in 1954 became the first single he would release. This group went on to perform at many venues with the addition of several more songs in their repertoire.

While he was with Sun Records, Elvis went on to record and release his first five singles which included the following:

  • “That’s All Right Mama”
  • “Mystery Train”
  • “Blue Moon of Kentucky”
  • “Good Rockin’ Tonight”
  • “Baby Let’s Play House”

These five songs became known to be some of the best that Elvis recorded in his career. Additionally, many believe that these songs were some of the best in rock and roll history.

In 1955, Elvis hired Colonel Tom Parker to be his business manager. It was also during this time that Sam Phillips decided to sell Elvis’s contract to RCA Records so he could create some money to expand Sun Records.

It is important to note that while Elvis was known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, his music was extremely versatile. While his music was dubbed often as being “rockabilly,” he also crossed genres such as blues, gospel, as well as country, and rock and roll music.

It was also during this time that Elvis Presley purchased Graceland, originally for his parents, grandmother, and himself to live. This is the home he continued to live in until his death.

Elvis in the Military

In the midst of his rise to fame, Elvis received a draft notice in 1957 but did not leave to serve until the following year. He eventually served in the U.S. Army in Germany, but prior to going, his mother passed away and he was released to attend her funeral.

Although he was devastated by his mother’s death, he put his all into serving his country in Germany. It was during his military service time that he met Pricilla Beaulieu, who would later become his wife.

Within two years after he was drafted and inducted into the army, Elvis was then released. Even though he was absent from the music and acting career he was building, he was able to jump right back into his stardom.

Elvis Presley in Germany sometime between 1958 and 1960.

Elvis on Television

Elvis Presley was an American icon in the music industry and quickly became the same in the movie industry. It is no surprise that many people wanted him to also come on their television shows as their guests.

His television appearances included about 15 highly successful national television shows including Stage Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Milton Berle Show, as well as Steve Allen’s variety show. From his unique vocals to his gyrating hips, Elvis Presley was a highly sought-after act.

After a period of time being out of the limelight, as far as his music and television appearances were concerned, Elvis launched his Comeback Special in 1968 on NBC. This was followed by several other special performances and events.

Elvis Presley in Hollywood

While Elvis’s music career had skyrocketed, he was also breaking into the Hollywood movie scene. Prior to his stint in the military, Elvis Presley starred in his first movie in 1956, “Love Me Tender” followed by “Jailhouse Rock,” and “King Creole.”

His break into the movie industry came through a screen test and later contract through Paramount Pictures. This contract led to several movies and musicals over the course of Elvis’s career.

As American music and acting icon, Elvis Presley was soon back at the forefront after being released from the military. In fact, he focused more on his acting than he did on producing music during this time.

Not only was he at the top of the charts for his music, but he also starred in 30 movies within an eight-year period. His films, though not all were box office hits, included “G.I. Blues,” “Blue Hawaii” and “Viva Las Vegas.”

After he married and became a father, he did not do much else in the movie industry, besides a concert film “Elvis on Tour.” This would be one of the last times he appeared on the screen.

Elvis’s Marriage and Family

Although he met Priscilla Beaulieu during his time in the military, they did not marry until 1967. They finally wed at a small ceremony in Las Vegas and then reportedly again with friends and family at Graceland, which Elvis had owned since he was about 22.

In 1968, they welcomed a daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who would be the only daughter of the couple.

Elvis Presley and Priscilla’s wedded bliss would not last for long. It was about six years later that their marriage fell apart and they divorced in 1973. Because Elvis was struggling with some personal issues which included prescription drug addiction, Priscilla maintained custody of Lisa Marie.

Elvis Presley and Priscilla with Lisa Marie, February 1968.

The King of Rock and Roll’s Downward Slide

After his divorce, Elvis Presley spent the next few years on a downward spiral of fluctuating weight, and prescription drug addiction. It was during this time that his family also fell apart.

Additionally, other than touring and other professional obligations, he separated himself from the outside world for the most part. Any recordings that came out during this time were done through mobile processes.

The work that Elvis Presley produced during this time was reportedly not as great as his earlier work. So, in addition to his health issues, his career was also on a downhill slide. 

The Death of a King

Elvis Presley was getting ready to launch another tour in August of 1977, however, before this could occur, the singer, songwriter, performer, and actor died of a heart attack at the age of 42. He was at his home in Graceland when it happened.

Later it was discovered to be a complication from his addiction to prescription drugs that may have caused the heart attack.

Greatest Hits by the King of Rock and Roll

While Elvis recorded and performed many songs throughout his career, he is often known for many of his greatest hits. His popular music has been not only heard of but also listened to by people of all ages.

Whether he was on stage or in the recording studio, Elvis often gave his all to every song. He was often known to be as great a songwriter as he was a performer.

Here are some of his most popular songs:

  • Heartbreak Hotel” — 1956 — Was his first number one hit
  • “Hound Dog” — 1956
  • “Don’t Be Cruel” — 1956
  • Blue Suede Shoes” — 1956
  • “Love Me Tender” — 1956
  • “All Shook Up” –1957
  • Jailhouse Rock” — 1957
  • “Suspicious Minds” — 1969

Some of his other singles that were released as soundtrack albums from many of the movies he starred in were:

  • “It’s Now or Never (‘O Sole Mio’)  — 1960
  • “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”  —  1961
  • “Viva Las Vegas” — 1964
  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — 1962
Photo of Elvis Presley with close friends and collaborators Bill Porter and Paul Anka. The photo was taken on August 5, 1972, at the Las Vegas Hilton. Bill Porter was a Nashville sound engineer who worked on many of Presley’s recordings in the 1960s.

Awards and Honors

In his short-lived career as both a musician and an actor, Elvis Presley made a name for himself in both industries. He came on the scene at a young age and soared quickly to the top of the charts as he sang and performed for many people.

Throughout this career, Elvis was honored with many awards and achievements through his work in music across several genres, his charity work, as well as his time spent on the big screen. 

From 14 Grammy Award nominations, Gold and Platinum Records, and Lifetime Achievement Awards to his recognition for the many charitable events he put together, it is not surprising that he was known as one of the greatest entertainers of all time.

Additionally, because of his versatile musical ability to cross several genres, he has been honored over the years by a variety of organizations. Elvis Presley has been inducted into several halls of fame including the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and many more.

Overall, throughout the lifetime and popular music of Elvis Presley, people are able to see that he was one of the most influential and iconic musicians during his time and is still today. Elvis is the epitome of what it means to follow your dreams no matter what other people think.

Written by Hope Davis

Long-time music lover Hope became a full-time writer in 2020 after being laid off from her regular job due to COVID-19. She now spends her time traveling the world to see her favorite bands while writing about them!


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