Elvis is IN the Building!

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

The King performed in Evansville for the second and last time, at the now demolished Roberts Stadium, on October 24, 1976. People camped out/stood in line for 2 days to get a ticket.

Fans waiting to buy tickets for Elvis Presley at Roberts Stadium, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0672.

Fans waiting to buy tickets for Elvis Presley at Roberts Stadium, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0672.

Fans waiting to buy tickets for Elvis Presley at Roberts Stadium, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0674.

Fans waiting to buy tickets for Elvis Presley at Roberts Stadium, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0674.

There was some dispute about whether tickets were sold fairly. “Frances Smith was staked out for 17 hours to be the first in line to purchases tickets but found that the best seat available was in row 12. The local papers fielded numerous complaints from purchasers. Some fans believed that tickets were withheld or sold early to local businesses and the local police. Stadium officials denied that any seats were held, sighting confusion over the seating sections as well as the great demand due to a large number of fans purchasing tickets. Despite the ticketing controversy, the concert sold out. More than 13,600 tickets were sold, the largest paid concert crowd in Roberts Stadium history to that point.

Performing for about an hour, Elvis thrilled the audience by singing all his old favorites.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 037-0737.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 037-0737.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 037-0767.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 037-0767.

Fans clamored for one of his sweaty scarves, worn during the concert.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0739.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0739.

Before he was ELVIS the star, he was born into a poor family in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935. His mother gave birth to twin boys, but the first was stillborn. Times were hard for the close-knit, deeply religious family. They moved from house to house, and at the tender age of 10, Elvis gave his first public musical performance by winning 5th place in a youth talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show.

Family picture of Gladys (left), Elvis (middle), and Vernon (right), n.d. Source: https://www.graceland.com/early-childhood

Family picture of Gladys (left), Elvis (middle), and Vernon (right), n.d. Source: https://www.graceland.com/early-childhood

Most young boys want bicycles, and Elvis was no exception. Unable to afford this, his mother talked him into getting a $12.95 guitar at the Tupelo Hardware Company. He now had his first performance, his first guitar, and the beginnings of country, gospel, and blues music influences that would lead him to stardom. In 1948 the family, in search of a better life, moved to Memphis, where the young boy was exposed to even more musical influences. “Elvis and his parents live in public housing or low rent homes in the poor neighborhoods of north Memphis. Life continues to be hard. Vernon and Gladys go from job to job and Elvis attends L.C. Humes High School. Elvis works at various jobs to help support himself and his parents. The Presley-Smith family remains close-knit, and Elvis and his family attend the Assembly of God Church. The teenage Elvis continues to be known for singing with his guitar. He buys his clothes on Beale Street and he absorbs the black blues and gospel he hears there. He’s also a regular audience member at the all-night, white and black, gospel sings that are held downtown. He wears his hair long (compared to the day’s standards) and slick, and lets his sideburns grow. He’s really different from the other kids, a good-natured misfit. While at Humes High, Elvis nervously sings with his guitar at a student talent show. Much to his own amazement, he gets more applause than anyone else and wins, then performs an encore. The acceptance feels good.

Elvis (center) performing on-stage, n.d. Source: https://www.graceland.com/1954-1957

Elvis (center) performing on-stage, n.d. Source: https://www.graceland.com/1954-1957

In the 1950s, Elvis made several demo records at the legendary Sun Studios and began to attract attention. He was teamed with a couple of local musicians, and by 1954, they enjoyed sufficient success to quit their day jobs. In 1956 Elvis held his first of many recording sessions with RCA, including a rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel.” ““Heartbreak Hotel” b/w “I Was the One” is released on vinyl by RCA and sells over 300,000 copies in its first three weeks on the market. It is soon to go to #1 on Billboard’s pop singles chart for eight weeks and hits #1 on the country chart and #5 on the R&B chart. It becomes the first Elvis single to sell over one million copies, thus earning Elvis his very first gold record award.” More recordings, live television performances, and Hollywood movies followed, further propelling Elvis into superstardom.

His trajectory was temporarily slowed when he was inducted into the Army in 1958, serving for 2 years. Upon his return to civilian life, it quickly became apparent that this hiatus did nothing to diminish Elvis mania. His fame only increased and he toured and recorded continuously. “This pace—as well as growing issues with prescription drugs—took a toll on his health. On August 16, 1977, while at home in his mansion, Graceland, he died of a heart attack.

In 42 short years, Elvis rose from poor Mississippi boy to the top of the entertainment world. Although he “left the building” 42 years ago this year, it’s probably safe to say that nearly everyone, including those born since 1977, recognizes the name of Elvis Presley. His home, Graceland, receives up to 750,000 visitors annually, making it second only to the White House in terms of famous homes visited. In 2015, he “earned” (Graceland visits, promotions and memorabilia sales, etc.) $55 million. “Presley also continues to be a staple of terrestrial radio and oldies stations, while Sirius XM’s Elvis Radio — launched in 2004 and broadcasting live from Graceland — remains one of the company’s most listened to channels and the top-rated artist-branded station.

Vive le roi! Long live the king!

Sources Consulted:

Graceland webpage (graceland.com)—About Elvis

Mehr, Bob. “40 years after Elvis’ death, the King still dominates tourism, TV, charts.” USA Today Network

MSS 034 Gregory Smith photographic collection/David L. Rice Library, University Archives and Special Collections

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Elvis Presley

Smith, Daniel. “Here’s the history behind Elvis Presley’s 1976 concert at Roberts Stadium.” Evansville Courier and Press, June 24, 2018.

This entry was posted in Evansville, Indiana, Local history, music, rock music. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Elvis is IN the Building!

  1. Jennifer Greene says:

    Great story, he had such an impact on music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.