On The Trail Of Elvis Presley In Memphis, Tennessee

Issue 83

The 2022 film Elvis stars Austin Butler as Elvis Presley. The Baz Luhrmann-directed biopic is told from the skewed perspective of Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks. In common with the rock and roll star whose life story it portrays, the film is proving a major global success, boosting interest in Elvis' music and his connections with the Tennessee city of Memphis.

The man known as the King of Rock and Roll lived the majority of his life in Memphis. He was born in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi – less than two hours’ drive away. In 1948 the Presley family moved across the state border to settle in Memphis.

From October 1949 until January 1953 the family resided in a two-bedroom apartment at Lauderdale Courts. Maintained in the style of a 1950s dwelling, it offers fans a unique opportunity to overnight in a property formerly lived in by Elvis. (Book a stay by calling +1 901 5238662.)

Many more visitors head to Graceland, on Memphis’ southern fringe, about a mile from the city’s airport. Elvis purchased the mansion in the spring of 1957, following US chart successes during the previous year with songs including Heartbreak Hotel and Hound Dog.

Visitors arrive at the kitschy yet engaging Graceland entertainment complex on the other side of the street. Jumpsuits, cars (including Elvis’ famous pink Cadillac), posters from his 31 films and walls of gold disks count among the vast array of memorabilia displayed. Interactive displays make it possible for fans to email snaps of themselves being serenaded by ‘the King’. Anyone wishing to channel their inner Elvis can buy a caped jumpsuit from one of Graceland’s well-stocked gift stores.

Minibuses drop visitors by the colonnaded façade of the former Presley family home and iPads provide insights into how Graceland’s rooms were used. Downstairs, there’s the television room where Elvis relaxed watching American football on three screens. Next door is a subtly illuminated games room with patterned fabric on its walls and ceiling. The thick green carpet of Elvis’ Hawaiianthemed den – known today as ‘the Jungle Room’ – was ideal for softening sound, so served as a studio for recordings in 1976.

Touring the National Historic Landmark is a way of understanding more about Elvis’ personality away from the stages on which he wowed audiences. Its annex conveys Elvis’ lifelong interest in law enforcement. The Meditation Garden allows visitors to pay respects at the gravesides of the man who was, arguably, the greatest icon of 20thcentury pop culture and other members of the Presley family.

Locations across Memphis provide insights into Elvis’ early life. A memorial plaque stands outside of the red brickwork of Humes High School, from where he graduated in 1953. In November 1955 he signed his first recording contract with RCA in the lobby of the grand Peabody Hotel. Yet it was for the exit and entry of the ducks that sit in the fountain between 11am and 5pm each day, rather than the King of Rock and Roll, that the hotel’s Duckmaster rolled out the red carpet.

Elvis would pop into The Arcade, a diner-style restaurant, for fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. A plaque and Blue Hawaii album cover denote his favourite table. The Arcade is by a crossroad in the vibrant South Main Arts District and opens daily from 7am to 3pm, making it ideal for fuelling up ahead of sightseeing. It is a short walk from both the Blues Hall of Fame Museum and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King Jr was infamously gunned down.

Along with the blues, gospel and country were major influences on Elvis and, more broadly, rock and roll music. The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, whose collection was put together by the Smithsonian Institution, conveys how musical styles crossed the colour barrier to converge in the city and went on to influence the world. Star performers are honoured in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame at the former premises of Lansky’s clothing store, where Elvis and other turns acquired their outfits. For true fans, perhaps nothing beats cradling the Shure 55 microphone into which Elvis nervously sang during his early sessions at Sun Studio. Tours of the building on Union Avenue end in the recording studio where many other renowned musicians have laid down tracks. In Memphis, the spirit of Elvis and the music he loved live on.

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