Elvis Presley and The Million Dollar Quartet: What to Know About the Historic Recording Session

by Keeli Parkey

Some of the greatest moments in history have happened just by chance. This was the case during the mid-1950s when Elvis Presley just “dropped in” on another artist’s recording session.

According to a blog post on Graceland.com, here’s the story behind the history Elvis and company made in that recording studio. The date was Dec. 4, 1956, and the legendary singer happened to drive by his old recording stomping grounds – Sun Studio. (Elvis had already moved on to work with RCA by this point in his career.)

On that day Sun Studio, which was located on Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, had several Cadillacs sitting outside. Elvis being Elvis, he just had to go inside his old studio and see what was going on.

And, what he found was Carl Perkins at work on some music. Also there, was future legend Jerry Lee Lewis. Although, Lewis was only an up-and-coming piano player at the time. Carl Perkins’ brothers, Clayton and Jay, were also working with him and Lewis.

So, now you have three music legends in one recording studio at the same. It couldn’t get better, could it?

Well, it did when none other than Johnny Cash strolled in. At this point in his career, Cash was the most popular artist at Sun Studio.

So now you have four music legends – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis – together. And, there’s a recording studio ready to capture what they can do together. So, what do they do? They jam – and make history!

Elvis Presley and Company Came to Be Known By Popular Nickname Thanks to New Story

Obviously, this gathering of these four artists came to be known as the “Million Dollar Quartet.” According to the blog post, this name came about thanks to a reporter from the Memphis Press-Scimitar.

That reporter was Bob Johnson, who must have thought of himself as very lucky that day. He captured the legendary photo of the four stars gathered around a piano. His story about the iconic jam session included the headline, “Million Dollar Quartet.” Also, Johnson reported that “the quartet could sell a million,” in the article.

One of the more interesting moments of the hour or so these four legends spent together making history came when Elvis Presley gave up his seat at the piano to Jerry Lee Lewis.

“The wrong man’s been sitting here at this piano,” Elvis reportedly said. And, Jerry Lee Lewis being Jerry Lee Lewis he responded with: “Well, I been wanting to tell you that all along.”

So, what did this “Million Dollar Quartet” perform on that December day in 1956? It was a mix of their most beloved gospel songs and country music. These included “Down by the Riverside,” “Peace in the Valley,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “You’re the Only Star in My Blue Heaven.”

It was a recording session for the ages, no doubt about it. The stars all aligned and brought those music stars together. And, the history of music was never the same.