Trip through time: Elvis in Memphis

Yoko Inoue (c) 2014, The Yomiuri Shimbun. MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There’s a sightseeing spot in Memphis, Tenn., that draws 600,000 people every year. About 200 adults were lined up there recently on a blisteringly hot day, without showing any sign of fatigue from the heat.

They were waiting to enter Graceland, where Elvis Presley lived for about 20 years until his death in 1977.

Die-hard Presley fan Sandi Goode, 75, said it was her 26th visit to the mansion.

She could not stop talking about the impact of hearing a Presley song for the very first time, saying it was completely different from any other music she had heard before then and that it compelled her to dance.

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Memphis is also known as the birthplace of the blues, which was developed by slaves brought there to work at cotton plantations along the Mississippi River.

Born to a poor white family in 1935 in Mississippi, Presley grew up hearing the country music that his parents listened to and the blues that African-Americans sang. When he was 13, he moved to Memphis, Tenn., with his parents, who wanted to find jobs there.

In his late teens, Presley was waiting for the opportunity to make his debut as a singer while working as a truck driver.

In July 1954, he sang “That’s All Right” to himself while resting at a music studio (currently Sun Studio) in Memphis. His song caught the ears of the studio manager who was looking for a white singer who could sing the music of black people.

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Presley recorded the song, and it was broadcast on local radio. It was an overnight sensation, and Presley’s image as a rebellious young man spread throughout the United States.

After that Presley rolled out one hit song after another, including “Heartbreak Hotel” (1956).

John Doyle, curator of the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum in Memphis, said the environment of Memphis in those days was suitable for producing rock ‘n’ roll, saying, “Elvis was really the person, the lucky person, and a very talented person, who was in that right place at the right time.”

Doyle also said that even before the civil rights movement, Presley succeeded in bringing different races together with his music.

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Reflecting on the history of rock ‘n’ roll, late John Lennon once said, “Before the Elvis, there was nothing.”

However, Presley’s popularity fell when a frenzy over the Beatles swept the United States while he was away from the music world temporarily as a result of being drafted into the military.

When Presley suddenly died of a heart attack at 42, he became a legend.

This year marks the 37th anniversary of his death, but Presley’s appeal has not faded.

A 450-room hotel to accommodate Presley fans from all over the world is scheduled to be completed next to Graceland next year.

Hal Lansky, 62, is the owner of Lansky Brothers, a clothing store in Memphis that supplied clothes for Presley even before his musical debut. He said Presley never forgot the people who helped him.

Even now, recordings are made almost every day at Sun Studio, as the studio accepts musicians from all over the world who yearn to perform in the place where rock ‘n’ roll was created.

Matt Ross-Spang, 27, a local engineer who operates the recording equipment that has remained almost unchanged since the old days, said his job was like that of archaeologist, as he listened to music from the ’50s and read books related to the era.

Elvis Presley is buried next to his parents in a garden at the Graceland estate. Fans around the world visit his grave every year on Aug. 16, the anniversary of his death.

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Inoue is a correspondent in Washington.