Fans celebrate 50 years of Elvis® music

by Andrew Howard

July 2004 marks a milestone in music history.

It is the 50th anniversary of Elvis® Presley's first recording. It was 1954, when Elvis recorded the hit "Thats alright Mama" at Sun Studios in Memphis and it changed the world forever.

Many people remember images of Elvis from the 1960s and 1970s as he appeared with starletts on the big screen and later toured Las Vegas in his trademark jumpsuits. But who was Elvis and why did he leave such an impact on fans 50 years later?

This month, TV guide is offering fans a limited edition CD. It features a great moment in History, the day Elvis recorded the song. Elvis was more than an entertainer, he first worked as a truck driver in Memphis. Daily he listened to Rhythm and Blues, developing his love of music.

Soon after briefly breaking into music, he was called to serve a tour of duty in the US Army. Despite the fact that Elvis was already a celebrity, he asked to be treated as just another soldier. By putting his fame aside, he drew the respect of his fellow servicemen.

He used his success as a performer to raise and donate large sums of money for charities. Elvis was even known to secretly pay the bills of those less fortunate, which included buying strangers' gifts, like new cadillacs. A thought came to mind, after meeting fans at our Elvis fan convention in Toms River each year.

What does Elvis mean to fans today as they reflect on the career of this music legend? So we set out to contact people around the country to ask that very question. What does the music of Elvis mean to you?

Here are just a few of those responses.

Phil Gelormine of Bound Brook, New Jersey reflects on that very question, "That's All Right" by Elvis means to me, finally finding a very good copy of an original Sun 209 on eBay, for under a thousand dollars, several years ago. And, yes it did have the distinctive punch marks which only original pressings must have! As for the performance, it was a sound like no other before or since. Hearing it today, it remains as fresh and unique as the day it was cut fifty years ago."

Marge Wells of Iowa emailed us this beautiful story, "I have loved Elvis for a very-very Long time and I still do. I was not always allowed to watch him because I lived in an orphange in New Jersey and our TV was very limited. I (went) to see Elvis twice when he played in New York and let me tell you, he was one Heck of a wonderful performer" As we continued to meet and talk with folks, it became very personal.

Judith Perry Chesapeake, Virginia said. "Elvis is excitement, and heartfelt soul. He remains as much a part of my life now, as when I was a teenager and first fell in love with his persona and fantastic voice!"

Beverly R. Kahler of the Bronx, New York offered a very deep understanding of her love for Elvis, "When I was about 14 or 15 yrs. old and I think it was 1956, I was living in Hollis, Queens and I was in my bedroom sulking because I wasn't getting my own way with my Mom. My Mom yelled thru the closed and locked doors, "Beverly, quick come see this" It was Elvis's 1st appearance on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show and Elvis was performing "Heartbreak Hotel" My Mom and me both started crying because we were so taken aback by this, very sexy singer. Wow, a Mom AND a Daughter overcome with the "fan thing"!

Later on in 1978, I was up in Massachusetts with my late hubby, who was recording his first album, when we heard on the radio that Elvis was found dead. My childhood memories came flooding back and again I was overcome. Long Live Elvis!" As we began to get to know people, we realized, there was another group of fans. They are simply known as Elvis Impersonators or, as they prefer to be called, Elvis tribute artists. These men make it a career recreating Elvis for fans across the globe. Elvis Tribute artists range from the age of 5 to 50. So why is Elvis the most copied entertainer in the world? I think we have that answer.

Jay Allan of PA, an Elvis tribute artist, was very direct in his explanation of why he impersonates Elvis, "Elvis is the tomorrow and forever!" Terry Collins, an Elvis promoter from New York, took some time from promoting his upcoming Lake George Elvis weekend, which will take place Oct 15th - 17th 2004. "I am not a crazy person. But instead of dancing and dreaming on the sidelines, I can cross an imaginary line when I step on stage and for a few moments, I can become the dream. I can reach into deeper parts of myself as 'Elvis'. I can have fun. I can command attention not otherwise available to me and do things I could never otherwise do. Becoming Elvis means a temporary escape from the restrictions and dullness of normal life, if only for a brief time."

Joe Searles, an Elvis tribute artist from Virginia, shared this story with us which shows how Elvis has affected people throughout their lives. "The first time I heard Elvis was in 1956 with his first RCA release, Heartbreak Hotel and fell in love with his voice instantly. I knew at that time that I wanted to sing his music. As I started singing when I was 9 in my School Glee Club and in Church. I was 15 in 1956. At 15, I lived on a boy's farm in NJ and worked as a waiter then head waiter. During the clean up after meals, I would use my broom as a guitar, and imitate Elvis and the ladies that worked there would go wild."

Ray Kaminski of New Jersey, also an Elvis tribute says, "Nobody can recreate Elvis. He was unique and probably the best entertainer that ever lived. So, what we try to do in our shows, is to recreate the atmosphere, the environment, the ambiance of being at an Elvis concert. To that end, we are totally authentic: the jumpsuits are exact copies of the originals, my hair color is exactly the same as Elvis', even my cologne is the same. In the end we look, sound, even smell like Elvis. It is a sensory experience that can never be duplicated, only approximated, but is well worth the experience."

Elvis Presley, has affected so many people in so many ways. His career has reached many fans new and old. His music has been featured worldwide. Including movies like 3,000 miles to Graceland, Lilo and Stitch, Home Alone, and Finding Graceland. In fact, Elvis is paid tribute in many interesting ways.

This includes groups likes the Fresno Christmas caroling Elvis' and the flying Elvi, featured in the movie "Honeymoon in Vegas" Elvis passed away in August of 1977, but did he really ever die? Fans seem to differ because their love for his music has kept him alive in their hearts.

I would like to end with a quote from a Finance Manager and Elvis impersonator named Jerry Papp of New Jersey which seems to say it all, "Elvis is an icon. No matter how much someone may look like him or sound like him, (he) is the only KING OF ROCK and ROLL®"

Andrew Howard runs a fan club with his wife Lori called "The Friends of Elvis® Fan club" who promotes Elvis fan conventions throughout New Jersey for the past four years. He performs tributes to Elvis for charities and has appeared on several TV and Radio shows to share the music of Elvis with new generations of fans.

Visit the Friends of Elvis Website

copyrighted 2004© Andrew J Howard