News / USA

Elvis Rocks Washington

Two exhibits mark the king's 75th birthday

The exhibit at the Newseum features clothing worn by Elvis, which is on loan from Graceland.
The exhibit at the Newseum features clothing worn by Elvis, which is on loan from Graceland.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

It has been more than 30 summers since Elvis Presley died. The singer would have been 75 in January and Washington is honoring him with, not one, but two different exhibits.   

Well-known face

Like his name and his music, his face - decades later - is still familiar.

"It is perhaps possible that Elvis is one of the most recognized human beings in all of history," says Warren Perry, curator of the exhibit "Echoes of Elvis" at the National Portrait Gallery.

The singer's face has appeared on everything from lunch boxes to postage stamps. Both are included in the exhibit.

The 1993 U.S. stamp featuring Elvis "is the greatest selling stamp in the history of the U.S. Postal Service," Perry says.  It sold 500 million copies. The original portrait by Mark Stutzman is among the works on display.  

Lasting legacy

All but one of the works were created after Elvis' death on August 16, 1977.  

"He is a constant source of inspiration, not only in visual art, but in cinema. We see Elvis referenced in movie after movie." Perry says. "Elvis is practically his own genre in fiction now, and there is a limitless supply of Elvis biographies available on the market."

Elvis at Three by Howard Finster, 1990
Elvis at Three by Howard Finster, 1990

But the focus here is on visual art. There are painted wooden cut-outs of Elvis as a soldier and a three-year-old boy with angel's wings by visionary artist Howard Finster.  

"After Elvis' death, Finster viewed Elvis as an emissary of God if you will," Perry says. "Since Elvis's death, people have taken Elvis and put him into a lot of motifs:  Elvis as a soldier, Elvis as a patriot, Elvis as a boy who loved his mom."

A lithograph by Tennessee artist Red Grooms shows Elvis in a gold lame suit, playing guitar with Graceland and one of his Cadillac automobiles behind him.

And a golden ceramic bust by Robert Arneson compares Elvis to Caesar. There is a small, brown "rock" on Elvis' shoulder stamped with the word "king."

This ceramic bust by Robert Arneson features a rock on Elvis' shoulder, a reference to the entertainer's status as the ''King of Rock'.
This ceramic bust by Robert Arneson features a rock on Elvis' shoulder, a reference to the entertainer's status as the ''King of Rock'.

"'King of Rock' is the implication," Perry says.   

There have certainly been mean-spirited portraits of Elvis since his death, but there are none in "Echoes of Elvis."  

"'What we have tried to do here at the National Portrait Gallery is pay tribute to Elvis on the occasion of his 75th birthday, with the more fun spirited, the encomium, like works of art."

Through a news lens

At the Newseum, TV broadcasts and newspaper headlines are at the core of the exhibit called, "Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story."  

"We look at this exhibit through how the news media played a role in Elvis's career," says Patty Ruhl, a writer who worked on the exhibit.

There are news headlines and reviews of performances. Rhul says the critics didn't always rave. Following his 1956 appearance on American television, "They called Elvis talent-free.  The New York Times said that he was vulgar. They said his movements belonged in a bordello."

And they weren't big fans of his movies, either she says. Elvis made 30 feature films. The exhibit includes some of the costumes he wore, and the famous, caped and bejeweled white suit he wore for his 1972 "Aloha from Hawaii" concert.

It "was the first concert broadcast live to more than 40 countries," Ruhl says. She notes that 1.5 billion people watched it on television. "That is more people than watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon."

Many of the objects are on loan from Graceland, Elvis's mansion. They document both his personal and professional life.  There is the uniform he wore as a soldier. Elvis was drafted into the army in 1957 and served for two years. During that time, he met his wife Priscilla.

The exhibit includes an empty champagne bottle from their Las Vegas wedding signed "Mr. and Mrs. Elvis Presley" and baby clothes worn by Lisa Marie, their only child.

This photo, of Elvis meeting with President Nixon, is the most requested photo in the Library of Congress archives.
This photo, of Elvis meeting with President Nixon, is the most requested photo in the Library of Congress archives.

Presidential meeting

A velvet jacket worn by Elvis in 1970 is on display. He wore it in a photo taken with President Richard Nixon. It is the most requested photo from the National Archives.

"He walked up to the Nixon White House and said he wanted to meet with the president and a stunned guard actually got him in to meet with President Nixon," Ruhl says. "He wanted to be enlisted in the war on drugs."

Following the visit, Elvis received a badge from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotics with his name on it. Ironically, Elvis died of an overdose of prescription drugs.

And more than 30 years after his death, people of all ages are still interested in the King of Rock.  

"We were afraid that perhaps he would only appeal to a certain generation, the baby boomers who grew up with Elvis and loved his music so," says Ruhl. "But we are seeing young people come to the exhibit."

Some, she says, even listen to his music on their iPods.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid