It’s hard to imagine what the executives of a major record label were thinking in 1955 when they rejected Elvis Presley.
How can you reject the King of Rock ‘N’ roll and still keep your job?
Feeling the Sting of Rejection
According to Classic Country Music, Presley was totally shut down by a major label in Los Angeles. The irony was that it was less than a year before he would go on to release his chart-topping hit “Heartbreak Hotel.”
The letter of Presley’s rejection is still in circulation. It may even be an inspiration for aspiring singer/songwriters that one “no” doesn’t really mean the opportunity will never happen.
The letter is from Monarch Record Mfg. Co. The letter was actually addressed to Sam Phillipps who was the executive of Sun Records in Memphis. This was where Elvis Presley was recording some of his first few songs.
Presley had just released his single “That’s All Right, Mama.” The release of this song didn’t stop executive Nate Duroff from saying Presley would just drag Los Angeles down.
In the ’50s, a scandalous, charismatic, charming character like Elvis Presley was beyond what people had ever experienced. He would go on to change the perception of music and performance.
The letter says that he “knows for a fact” that Western and Hillbilly music “stinks” in LA in terms of money and sales. The letter of rejection was auctioned off.
Elvis Presley Dominates the World
Instead, Presley signed with RCA Victor. He became an international sensation in 1956. Duroff surely was punching the air in defeat.
Besides his success in music, he became a cultural icon that spanned beyond just singing. He was the star of 33 films and starred in a number of TV specials. All the while he toured the country in front of huge crowds.
He had 14 Grammy nominations (three wins) and won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He also was named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation in 1970. The King had a personality that drove him to become a worldwide icon. Even after his death in 1977, fans still worshiped him.
Today, his house is the second most visited besides The White House. Fans create movies, books, shows, and even graphic novels of The King.
A PBS special called “Country Music” explores the 1930s to 1990s. It shows how country-western music came from the white working class of Los Angeles.
“From the 1940s up into the early 90s, there was a thriving country barroom scene on the southeast side of Los Angeles County where I grew up. Joints like The Tumbleweeds in Bell Gardens, Nashville West in El Monte, The Dodge Saloon in Norwalk and The Blue Bayou in Bellflower … As tastes changed in country music and the customers and jobs moved on or, sadly, as the old timers passed away, so did these honky tonks and the music scene they supported,” said musician Dave Alvin according to PBS Social.
The acceptance of “country music” swayed back-and-forth in a music community like LA. However, Presley’s iconic nature hasn’t swayed much since the ’50s.