Twenty-five years ago August 16, the "King of Rock and Roll", Elvis Presley, was found dead at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. Since his death, Elvis' popularity has continued to grow, attracting a new generation of fans. VOA's Bernie Bernard tells us about the activities in Elvis' hometown of Memphis and the new albums that have been released to honor "The King's" anniversary.
Elvis Presley's talent and showmanship made him the USA's first rock and roll star. He was a poor truck driver who epitomized the American dream by becoming the idol of millions. Despite his great fame, Elvis always maintained humility about himself and his place in contemporary music.
"I've experienced a lot of the different phases of life. I've experienced happiness and loneliness and the wealthy side of life and tragedy, like losing my mother while I was in the army," Elvis said. "Although, I think things like that, as tragic as they are, can make you a better human being, really."
Hundreds of performers have been influenced by Elvis in some way, whether it's singing style, stage presence, dress or attitude. New Orleans singer Aaron Neville, who has one of the most distinctive voices in pop and R&B, cites Elvis as an inspiration.
"I think Elvis influenced just about everybody that was into music, because he was like an entity in the music business," says Neville. "He broke a lot of ground. He got songs played [on the radio] that ordinarily wouldn't have gotten played, for one thing. He opened doors for other people, whether they know it or not."
Thousands of fans from around the world are in Memphis, Tennessee for the annual Elvis Week celebration. Graceland is now a museum, and the city's Number One tourist attraction. The week will culminate in a candlelight vigil, where fans will silently file past Elvis' grave in Graceland's Mediation Garden and pay their respects. The ceremony will be nationally-televised this year.
After watching fans come and go for many Elvis Week celebrations, Graceland spokesman Todd Morgan describes the scene as a type of family reunion.
"It's not a nine-day wake. It's a nine-day celebration of Elvis' life, his career, his work," Morgan says. "These fans have a great sense of camaraderie and a connection with one another. It's a happy time. They're very excited to be here. I guess you could liken it to football fans coming in from all over the world to go to the Superbowl. They come to Memphis, the center of the Elvis universe. There's a lot of warmth and good humor and fun, and a lot of excitement."
This week, several events have been organized to mark "The King's" 25th anniversary, including parades, dance parties, fan club gatherings, tours of Graceland, auctions of Elvis memorabilia, charity events, concerts with former Elvis bandmates, and, of course, performances by Elvis impersonators. A traveling exhibit called the Mobile Graceland Tour was unveiled, which will visit 31 cities across the U.S. Housed in an 18-wheel truck, the show will feature memorabilia and artifacts that have never been displayed outside of Elvis' Graceland home. Fans from around the U.S. have their own special reasons for making the pilgrimage to Memphis.
"I've liked Elvis ever since I can remember and I always wanted to go to Graceland," admits one fan.
"Being here on the grounds, it's exciting," says another fan. "You kind of get an Elvis fever thing."
"I love the way he sings. His voice is beautiful. It just kind of touches me in the heart," adds a fan.
"He's the greatest that ever was and the greatest there will ever be," says another fan.
"Years after his death, how many people still love him and cherish him and still worship 'The King?' It's a phenomenon. He'll never die," says another fan.
This week, Tomato Records is releasing Elvis Presley/Roots Revolution: The Louisiana Hayride Recordings, which feature some of "The King's" live radio performances from the mid-1950s. RCA Records has already put out the box set, Elvis: Today, Tomorrow and Forever, and will release Elvis 30 #1 Hits on September 24.
For the soundtrack of the recent film, Ocean's Eleven, producer David Holmes re-mixed an obscure Elvis tune with an added hip-hop rhythm track. Disc jockey JXL's Elvis remix A Little Less Conversation is already number one in the U.K.