Elvis Presley was born on this day in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. From his humble working-class beginnings, he rose to be one of the most important figures in musical history. He brought rock ‘n’ roll to whole the mainstream and changed the way people looked at music. Elvis wasn’t just the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, he was the reason for its mass appeal.
From his first recordings, Elvis Presley blended country and pop music. Later, he would become one of the earliest artists to adopt the rockabilly sound. This fusion of country, western swing, and rhythm and blues is what many think of as classic rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis’ sound.
The Early Days of Elvis Presley’s Life
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. His family didn’t have much money and, as a result, had to move often. Throughout his upbringing, Elvis had a deep love for his family and strong faith in God. According to Biography, Elvis was raised in the Assembly of God Church. Because of this, gospel music had a strong influence on him from his early years. According to History, Elvis’ mother would tell stories about a young Elvis running down the aisle of the church to stand in front of the choir and sing along.
His birthday is important to the world of music for more than one reason. It was on his 11th birthday that Elvis Presley received his first guitar. At the time, Elvis wanted either a rifle or a bicycle for his birthday. His mother, however, was incredibly protective. She wanted to be able to give him a great gift and still keep an eye on him. With that guitar, which cost less than seven dollars at the time, Gladys Presley changed the course of history forever.
Elvis’ First Recordings
The King’s first recordings at what would later become Sun Studios laid the groundwork for his future career. As the legend goes, Elvis Presley recorded the songs as a gift for his mother. Another version of the story is that he just wanted to see how he would sound. On that day he cut “My Happiness” and “That’s Where Your Heartaches Began.”
That day, the staff at Sun knew that there was something to this kid from Mississippi. They wrote his name down. Later, they would sign him. Legendary producer Sam Phillips would help to develop Elvis Presley’s now-signature rock ‘n’ roll sound.
‘That’s All Right (Mama)’ The Epicenter of Rock ‘n’ Roll
After hearing Elvis Presley’s name several times from his business partner and getting a generally positive review of Elvis from two of his favorite session musicians, Sam Phillips set up a recording session with the young singer. On July 5, 1954, Elvis’ career would begin in earnest.
After several takes of what Phillips felt were unremarkable tunes, everyone needed a break. Instead of just hanging out or stepping out for some air or to grab some food, Elvis started playing and singing just to blow off some steam. The session players, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, fell in with him. When Sam Phillips heard what they were playing, he knew he had found the artist he had been looking for.
The musicians were playing a tune by bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup called “That’s All Right (Mama)” but they were playing it much faster than the original. Scotty Moore would later say that Phillips stuck his head through the door and asked what they were doing. The musicians replied with a collective “We don’t know.” Phillips then told them to back it up and play it again. Sam Phillips knew a hit song when he heard one.
Two days after recording the song, they released it to Memphis radio station WHBQ. Two weeks later it was released as a single. The song was an almost instant regional hit.
Elvis was on his way to stardom and the rock ‘n’ roll revolution had begun.
‘Heartbreak Hotel’ Elvis Presley’s First Number-One Hit
On November 20, 1955, Elvis Presley signed with RCA records. Two months later he would release his first number one hit song. “Heartbreak Hotel.”
The song hit the top of the pop chart in April of 1956. It would remain in the top spot for eight weeks. During that time period, it made it to the top of the country and western chat. The song also made the top-five of the R&B chart as well. It would go on to be Billboard’s top song of 1956.
With this hit under his belt, Elvis proved himself to be a crossover success. He had just enough of a gritty edge to have mass appeal. The influence of country and R&B were so prevalent that fans of those genres liked his sound. The pop audience ate his music up as well.
Elvis Presley has arguably had more influence over music and the culture that surrounds it than anyone else. Through him, an entire generation was introduced to a style of music and songs that they may not have heard otherwise. The King’s legacy will outlive us all.