He is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century and is often referred to as the " King of Rock and Roll " or simply "the King". His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines during a transformative era in race relations , led him to great success—and initial controversy.
Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi , and relocated to Memphis, Tennessee , with his family when he was 13 years old. His music career began there in , recording at Sun Records with producer Sam Phillips , who wanted to bring the sound of African-American music to a wider audience. Presley, on rhythm acoustic guitar, and accompanied by lead guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black , was a pioneer of rockabilly , an uptempo, backbeat -driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues.
In , drummer D. Fontana joined to complete the lineup of Presley's classic quartet and RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker , who would manage him for more than two decades. With a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records, he became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll. Drafted into military service in , Presley relaunched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work. He held few concerts, however, and guided by Parker, proceeded to devote much of the s to making Hollywood films and soundtrack albums, most of them critically derided.
In , following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed television comeback special Elvis , which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In , Presley gave the first concert by a solo artist to be broadcast around the world, Aloha from Hawaii. Years of prescription drug abuse severely compromised his health, and he died suddenly in at his Graceland estate at the age of With his rise from poverty to significant fame, Presley's success seemed to epitomize the American Dream.
He won three Grammy Awards , received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36, and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame. Presley holds several records; the most RIAA certified gold and platinum albums, the most albums charted on the Billboard , and the most number-one albums and number-one singles on the UK Albums Chart and UK Singles Chart , respectively.
In , Presley was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The family attended an Assembly of God church, where he found his initial musical inspiration. His father, Vernon's, forebears were of German  or Scottish origin. Vernon moved from one odd job to the next, evincing little ambition. In , they lost their home after Vernon was found guilty of altering a check written by his landowner and sometime employer. He was jailed for eight months, while Gladys and Elvis moved in with relatives.
In September , Presley entered first grade at East Tupelo Consolidated, where his teachers regarded him as "average". The contest, held at the Mississippi— Alabama Fair and Dairy Show on October 3, , was his first public performance.
The ten-year-old Presley was dressed as a cowboy; he stood on a chair to reach the microphone and sang "Old Shep". He recalled placing fifth. Presley recalled, "I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it. In September , Presley entered a new school, Milam, for sixth grade; he was regarded as a loner. The following year, he began bringing his guitar to school on a daily basis.
He played and sang during lunchtime, and was often teased as a "trashy" kid who played hillbilly music. By then, the family was living in a largely black neighborhood. He was described as "crazy about music" by Slim's younger brother, who was one of Presley's classmates and often took him into the station. Slim supplemented Presley's guitar tuition by demonstrating chord techniques.
Presley was overcome by stage fright the first time, but succeeded in performing the following week. In November , the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. After residing for nearly a year in rooming houses , they were granted a two-bedroom apartment in the public housing complex known as the Lauderdale Courts. Humes High School , Presley received only a C in music in eighth grade.
When his music teacher told him that he had no aptitude for singing, he brought in his guitar the next day and sang a recent hit, "Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me", to prove otherwise. A classmate later recalled that the teacher "agreed that Elvis was right when he said that she didn't appreciate his kind of singing".
They and three other boys—including two future rockabilly pioneers, brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette —formed a loose musical collective that played frequently around the Courts. During his junior year, Presley began to stand out more among his classmates, largely because of his appearance: he grew his sideburns and styled his hair with rose oil and Vaseline.
In his free time, he would head down to Beale Street , the heart of Memphis' thriving blues scene, and gaze longingly at the wild, flashy clothes in the windows of Lansky Brothers. By his senior year, he was wearing those clothes. Presley recalled that the performance did much for his reputation: "I wasn't popular in school I failed music—only thing I ever failed. And then they entered me in this talent show It was amazing how popular I became in school after that. Presley, who received no formal music training and could not read music, studied and played by ear.
He also frequented record stores that provided jukeboxes and listening booths to customers. King recalled that he had known Presley before he was popular when they both used to frequent Beale Street. In August , Presley checked into the offices of Sun Records. He aimed to pay for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate disc : " My Happiness " and " That's When Your Heartaches Begin ".
He later claimed that he intended the record as a birthday gift for his mother, or that he was merely interested in what he "sounded like", although there was a much cheaper, amateur record-making service at a nearby general store. Biographer Peter Guralnick argued that he chose Sun in the hope of being discovered.
Asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Presley responded, "I sing all kinds. He explained to his father, "They told me I couldn't sing. Bond rejected him after a tryout, advising Presley to stick to truck driving "because you're never going to make it as a singer". Phillips, meanwhile, was always on the lookout for someone who could bring to a broader audience the sound of the black musicians on whom Sun focused.
Presley came by the studio but was unable to do it justice. Despite this, Phillips asked Presley to sing as many numbers as he knew. He was sufficiently affected by what he heard to invite two local musicians, guitarist Winfield "Scotty" Moore and upright bass player Bill Black , to work something up with Presley for a recording session.
The session held the evening of July 5, proved entirely unfruitful until late in the night. As they were about to abort and go home, Presley took his guitar and launched into a blues number, Arthur Crudup's " That's All Right ". Moore recalled, "All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them.
Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open The interest was such that Phillips played the record repeatedly during the remaining two hours of his show. Interviewing Presley on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed that he was black.
The trio played publicly for the first time on July 17 at the Bon Air club—Presley still sporting his child-size guitar. A combination of his strong response to rhythm and nervousness at playing before a large crowd led Presley to shake his legs as he performed: his wide-cut pants emphasized his movements, causing young women in the audience to start screaming.
From August through October, they played frequently at the Eagle's Nest club and returned to Sun Studio for more recording sessions,  and Presley quickly grew more confident on stage. According to Moore, "His movement was a natural thing, but he was also very conscious of what got a reaction. He'd do something one time and then he would expand on it real quick. In November , Presley performed on Louisiana Hayride —the Opry ' s chief, and more adventurous, rival.
The Shreveport -based show was broadcast to radio stations in 28 states. Presley had another attack of nerves during the first set, which drew a muted reaction. A more composed and energetic second set inspired an enthusiastic response. Fontana brought a new element, complementing Presley's movements with accented beats that he had mastered playing in strip clubs.
By early , Presley's regular Hayride appearances, constant touring, and well-received record releases had made him a regional star, from Tennessee to West Texas. In January, Neal signed a formal management contract with Presley and brought him to the attention of Colonel Tom Parker , whom he considered the best promoter in the music business.
Parker—who claimed to be from West Virginia he was actually Dutch —had acquired an honorary colonel's commission from country singer turned Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis. Having successfully managed top country star Eddy Arnold , Parker was working with the new number-one country singer, Hank Snow.
Parker booked Presley on Snow's February tour. I just didn't know what to make of it. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it. According to Neal, many country-music disc jockeys would not play it because he sounded too much like a black artist and none of the rhythm-and-blues stations would touch him because "he sounded too much like a hillbilly.
Presley renewed Neal's management contract in August , simultaneously appointing Parker as his special adviser. So many of them, through some sort of jealousy, would practically hate him. There were occasions in some towns in Texas when we'd have to be sure to have a police guard because somebody'd always try to take a crack at him.
They'd get a gang and try to waylay him or something. In mid-October, they played a few shows in support of Bill Haley , whose " Rock Around the Clock " track had been a number-one hit the previous year. Haley observed that Presley had a natural feel for rhythm, and advised him to sing fewer ballads. Songwriters were obliged to forgo one-third of their customary royalties in exchange for having him perform their compositions.
The program, produced in New York, was hosted on alternate weeks by big band leaders and brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. The sessions yielded eight songs, including a cover of Carl Perkins ' rockabilly anthem " Blue Suede Shoes ". RCA released Presley's self-titled debut album on March Joined by five previously unreleased Sun recordings, its seven recently recorded tracks were of a broad variety.
There were two country songs and a bouncy pop tune.