January 1935: The King of Rock and Roll is Born

Happy Birthday Elvis Aaron Presley! One of the most significant figures in music history was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, a small town in northeastern Mississippi.  

He was preceded in life by a stillborn twin brother, and spent his early years with his parents, Vernon and Gladys, in a two-room, shotgun house built by his father.  He would get his first guitar around age 11 and would become obsessed with music, often playing at school.  

What a gift it is to find your talent and passion at such a young age and despite being told to give up on music by both school teachers and music professionals alike in his early years, Elvis pressed on. He began recording music around 1953, and the rest is in actuality history.

Many music greats including John Lennon, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen credit Elvis with inspiring them to create music.

In addition to making the famous statement that “Before Elvis, there was nothing,” Lennon also said, “Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been The Beatles.” 

To really understand the magic of Elvis, you have to watch one of his early performances.  Youtube has several amazing videos of Elvis singing and dancing in 1956 including this video of Jail House Rock, and another of him singing Hound Dog on The Ed Sullivan Show. These videos really capture the energy and intoxicating nature of his performance style. So many have emulated him since that to our 2021 selves, it seems almost everyday, but when watching the videos, try to remember that he invented this genre, this was literally a first.

Of course, during the conversative social setting of the 1950s, Elvis’ dancing and singing was seen by many as lurid.  Elvis himself said of his style, “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ‘em all together, I guess.”

As we know, his adult home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee has become a major tourist destination.  I visited Graceland during the late 1990s and I don’t think I was in a place to really appreciate it back then. I remember being shocked by the shag carpet and overly trendy 1960s-era furnishings.  I need to go back as a proven and seasoned adult to appreciate better what that home meant to him and to music.

Elvis died of a heart attack at a very young 42 years of age in 1977.  His excessive drug use was causative in bringing on an early death.  Had he lived, he would be a grandfather in his eighties today, and most certainly would have given us all waves upon waves of additional musical delight.

I think Dolly Parton, my own favorite musical legend, said it best, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you have accomplished something. Elvis did that and more for me and so many others.”

Happy birthday to the one and only king.

Here are a couple of good resources to help you learn more about Elvis Presley: