On This Day: Elvis Presley Makes Las Vegas Debut in 1956, and It Does Not Go Well

by Matthew Wilson
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Elvis Presley and Las Vegas may be an iconic pairing for the history books. But things did not go well the first time the King played Sin City. Fans may be surprised to learn that Presley didn’t bring down the house when he performed there in 1956.

The King later became synonymous with Las Vegas much in the same way that Frank Sinatra was with New York. But Presley ended up bombing the first time he took the stage in Las Vegas. It was a setback that the singer wasn’t quite prepared for. Presley had dazzled audiences with his debut album that promised to make him a national star.

In Memphis, he was a celebrity that made even singers like Johnny Cash stand in awe. But Presley’s acclaim didn’t quite transform into success in Las Vegas. For one, Presley offered something new and provocative to music. Audiences weren’t ready to embrace that change. His tone clashed with the established mood in Las Vegas.

Newsweek wrote the “[audience] sat through Presley as if he were a clinical experiment.” They also described the performance as “a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party.”

Elvis Presley in Las Vegas

Elvis Presley performed alongside Freddy Martin and comedian Shecky Greene in Las Vegas. The singer booked a two-week series of concerts at the New Frontier Hotel. Presley hoped that the trip would bolster his growing success even more. The King was only 21-years-old at the time. And he was quickly turning heads with his music.

For a kid who grew up on the poverty line, all that success must have felt a bit like a dream. But Presley quickly had a rude awakening. He played for a mostly middle-aged audience that didn’t connect with his youthful music or swagger. In fact, Presley ended up only performing one week of the two weeks he booked.

“Elvis Presley, arriving here on the wave of tremendous publicity, fails to hit the promised mark,” one columnist wrote. “The brash, loud braying of his rhythm and blues catalog (and mind you, they are big hits everywhere it seems), which albeit rocketed him to the big time, is overbearing to a captive audience.”

It would take a few more years for Presley to get the Las Vegas welcome he wanted. The singer turned to becoming one of the most dominate musicians in the country. Over the next decade, he produced more than a dozen albums, which made his star rise. He also turned to Hollywood, starring in numerous films and productions that made him a household name.

By 1969, Las Vegas opened its arms and welcomed Presley wholeheartedly. They asked the singer to perform on the Las Vegas strip. This time, he spent a month at the International Hotel. And he made more than a $1 million in the process.

Presley kept coming back to the city for the next few years until he died in 1977.

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