Elvis Presley: ‘Game changer’ in Tennessee music history

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Celebrities known as one name are already pretty rare, but when you add royalty – that’s a true gem.

Elvis Presley had both. He was known as just Elvis and also The King.

He was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1948.

Michael Gray, Senior Museum Editor at the Country Music Hall of Fame explained to News 2 that Elvis grew up listening to country, pop, gospel and R&B music.

Gray said Elvis’s life changed the moment he walked into Sun Records in Memphis.

“What comes to mind is this exuberant, charismatic, King of rock and roll. The guy who’s shaking everything up, you know. Elvis the pelvis. But you know, really, when he first walked into a recording studio in 1953, when he was 18-years-old, he was painfully shy. The story is that he was wanting to make this record for his mother. And, you know, and he went into the studio a couple more times in like 1954,” said Gray.

Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, took notice of Elvis’s talent and decided to sign him. Elvis started to record and quickly gained major popularity.

“The way he dressed, the way he moved, even just the way he conducted interviewers, I mean, he was really like a figurehead for rock and roll,” Gray continued, “But also a lightning rod for people who despise it. You know, he was very controversial. He was definitely the most influential rock and roll performer of all time. He was the game changer.”

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The King shook up the music world, and then his recording contract was sold to RCA Records in 1955.

“He started coming to Nashville to record. He recorded Heartbreak Hotel here. And then in 1957, because Elvis had made so much money for RCA Records, right away, they opened up a studio here in Nashville on Music Row, which is now known as Historic RCA Studio B,” said Gray.

Elvis recorded more than 200 songs in Studio B. By 1956, he became one of the biggest names in music. He would go on to also star in more than 30 Hollywood films.

Brigitte Kruse is a fifth-generation auctioneer with GWS Auctions and works with a lot of Elvis memorabilia.

“We have some of the most iconic Elvis items of all time. We have a 1968 Comeback Special Guitar. It’s a cherry red vibrant guitar that he is photographed using many times, so many iconic shots,” explained Kruse.

Kruse said this guitar was something Elvis used at the peak of his career and was once on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“It’s such a special honor to be able to deal with these artifacts. I don’t think people realize these things still exist. A lot of the times they are kept in private collections or museums,” said Kruse.

  • Kruse GWS Auctions: Elvis Presley Comeback TV Special guitar
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  • Kruse GWS Auctions: Marilyn Monroe necklace, Elizabeth Taylor blue drop earrings
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  • Kruse GWS Auctions: Elvis Presley Comeback TV Special guitar
  • Kruse GWS Auctions: Elvis Presley Comeback TV Special guitar

Kruse said you can’t help but fall in love with things that once belonged to Elvis from this time period.

“He looked his best and he felt his best. He had come back from being in the Army and did the film thing. It truly marked his position as The King. Right back into music, as soon as he came back he was our King again. Right after that tour is when he developed the famous ‘TCB’ Taking Care of Business.” Kruse added, “We have his original TCB necklace. He had such a phenomenal life. So many different elements and aspects of Elvis.” Kruse said being able to preserve parts of history is one of her favorite aspects of her job.

Elvis wasn’t always focused on fame. He was also a family man. He married Priscilla Presley in 1967. The couple had their first and only child, Lisa Marie Presley, in 1968.

Elvis won several awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1971. Gray said Elvis did so much more for the world than win awards.

“One of his biggest accomplishments was the way that he broke down those racial lines you know between black and white, R&B, and country and pop. He fused all of that together,” explained Gray.

Just a few years later, fans were in disbelief with a tragic announcement on August 16, 1977. At 42-years-old, Elvis died from a heart attack at Graceland.

“I was eight when Elvis died. And I’ll never forget that day, because it was one of the first times I ever remember seeing my mother cry. Her and her friends in the neighborhood were gathered on the porch, you know, hearing the news that Elvis had passed away, and there’s my mother in tears,” said Gray.

Gray said although Elvis passed, his life and legacy live on.

“Every August folks gather in Memphis. Folks from all around the world, you know, traveled to Memphis to be at Graceland, and they’re there to be at his grave and remember his legacy and what his music meant to them,” explained Gray.

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