I didn’t start out as an Elvis fan. I could tell you that my favorite Elvis song was “Jailhouse Rock,” but I’m pretty sure that was only because it was one of the only ones I knew.
When I arrived at the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau as the new Public Relations and International Sales Director, almost three years ago, I was immediately thrown into the world of Elvis Presley. Within one month of working there, I had already visited Graceland on official business three times. Even today, not a week goes by that I don’t spend some time at his birthplace in Tupelo.
I’ve learned over the years that the best way to approach a new situation is to sit back, listen, and learn. What I learned is that we have The Beatles, because of Elvis. We have Bruce Springsteen, because of Elvis. We have Eric Church, because of Elvis. We have Metallica, because of Elvis. We have Lady Gaga, because of Elvis. I can keep going. I promise. We have an amazing multitude of music today because one Elvis Presley took his music to the masses. He didn’t invent rock ‘n roll or rhythm and blues or gospel, but he melded them together to make a sound like no other, and it set the music world on fire.
I have just returned from celebrating the legacy of Elvis Presley during Graceland’s grand, weeklong bash held each August in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Week celebrates his life through concerts, special events, conversations with those who played a role in his life, and many, many other opportunities to pay homage to the King of Rock ‘N Roll.
Each year we travel 90 miles north to share with Elvis fans from around the world, the story of where it all began. Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935, and spent his formative years here until moving to Memphis with his parents, at age 13, to find a better life. With my co-workers from the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau and our partners at the Tupelo Elvis Festival, we spent the week doing media interviews, hosting special events, and promoting Tupelo at the annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition.
The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition brought contenders from around the globe to pay tribute to arguably, the greatest entertainer the world has ever known. Singing songs made famous by the King of Rock ‘N Roll, they looked like Elvis, dressed like Elvis, moved like Elvis, and crooned like Elvis. For the record, there is a vast difference in an impersonator and a tribute artist. The men (and occasionally women) who enter this competition are truly showing their appreciation for Elvis’ impact on music through performance. From the glitz and glitter of jumpsuits to a full band that knows every rendition of every song he ever sang, a tribute artist competition should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The semi-final round saw the group go from 24 to 10, and the finals narrowed it down even further to the top five. In the end, only one man could be named the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist of 2015, and this year’s winner was David Lee. He won the competition singing “America the Beautiful,” in Elvis’ 1973 American Eagle jumpsuit. David has previously won the Tupelo Elvis Festival’s Tribute Artist Competition to advance to the Ultimate contest in Memphis, so he is “one of ours,” and is a great friend of the Elvis Presley Birthplace.
Following the competition each night, we co-hosted events at the Hard Rock Café for all of Elvis’ fans to continue enjoying the music of the King. Elvis tribute artists, both Ultimate winners and contestants, joined others for amazing jam sessions each night. Most of these guys are so unbelievably talented, that they would go from singing, to playing the drums, to taking a turn on the guitar, really showcasing their musical capabilities. I have heard it said so many times that music is the universal language and never before was it more apparent than watching people come together through the music of Elvis Presley. In fact, Tupelo Elvis Festival’s 2015 Tribute Artist competition winner, Diogo Light, hails from Brazil and learned to speak English watching Elvis’ movies and singing his songs.
I managed to find time to run in between all of the exciting events that made up Elvis Week 2015. As we were staying at the Westin Memphis, I enjoyed running by the Mississippi River each morning taking in the beauty of the mighty river and the exceptional views of Downtown Memphis. This helped me deprogram from everything I saw and heard throughout the week, even though I may have had an Elvis song or two in my playlist.
This was my third Elvis Week and each time I travel to Memphis to experience this weeklong celebration, I am continually amazed at the impact Elvis Presley still makes today. He is such a part of popular culture that not a day goes by without hearing his music or seeing his image in some form. In the year that would have been his 80th birthday, I have often wondered what music he would have given us had he not passed at such an early age. Whatever it might have been, I know we would still be enjoying it today.
And now, I am an Elvis fan, a big one. I am a fan because I love music. I am a fan because I appreciate what he did for music. I am a fan, because he was Elvis. And today, my favorite Elvis song is “Never Been to Spain.” What’s yours?