ELVIS IN 1956
Elvis Presley accomplished more in one year than many artists do in a lifetime.
He released both his first album and movie. He made his national television debut. He recorded hit songs, collaborated with some of the most talented musicians of his day and toured relentlessly. He purchased his first home in Memphis.
1956 was a big year for Elvis Presley, personally and professionally.
The world was still trying to figure out the young king in ’56, but he was out to prove himself as a force to be reckoned with. In just this one year, he recorded and released classic songs, such as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” “Heartbreak Hotel” was recorded on January 10 at Elvis’ first recording session for RCA.
King of the Road
Elvis’ busy touring schedule carried over from 1955 into 1956. He crisscrossed the country countless times, performing everywhere from baseball parks to large auditoriums. He played small communities and big cities alike. Just a few of the places he played in ‘56 include Raleigh, North Carolina; San Diego, California; Richmond, Virginia; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; Sarasota, Florida; Dayton, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; Phoenix, Arizona; Savannah, Georgia; St. Paul, Minnesota; New Orleans, Louisiana; Denver, Colorado; Louisville, Kentucky; Miami, Florida; Houston, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; and, of course, Memphis. He actually collapsed from exhaustion on February 23, 1956, after performing in Jacksonville, Florida. The doctor who treated him recommended that he slow down. That’s easier said than done, of course.
Elvis was still part of the Louisiana Hayride, but he made his last regular appearance in March 1956. His final Louisiana Hayride performance was December 15, 1956. Elvis also made his debut in Las Vegas in April 1956.
On the Small Screen
Elvis’ first national television appearance was on January 28, 1956, on “Stage Show,” and he continued to appear on the show through February and March. He made two appearances on the “Milton Berle Show,” followed by a “Steve Allen Show” appearance.
He finished out 1956 with two appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
Elvis’ first album hit record stores on March 23, 1956, and it reaches No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart on May 5. He has the No. 1 album for 10 weeks.
Elvis returned to his hometown, Tupelo, Mississippi, on September 26, to perform at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, where he first performed when he was 10 years old.
Home Sweet Home
Elvis and his parents, Vernon and Gladys, purchased their first home in Memphis in March 1956. The Audubon Drive house was home for about a year, until Elvis purchased Graceland in 1957.
On the Big Screen
Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, saw the silver screen in Elvis’ future, and he scored Elvis a screen test in April 1956. He began filming his first movie, “Love Me Tender,” in August.
By September 25, he received news that RCA had 918,230 orders for the still-unreleased single of “Love Me Tender,” which was an industry first – a gold record before it’s even released.
“Love Me Tender” wrapped production on October 8, and Elvis, his parents and girlfriend June Juanico saw a rough cut of the film on October 24. That same day, Variety declared Elvis “a millionaire in 1 year.”
“Love Me Tender” premiered on November 15, followed by a nationwide release on November 21. It came in second that weekend at the box-office, just behind James Dean’s final film, “Giant.”
Million Dollar Quartet
The night of December 4, 1956, is now the stuff of legends.
That evening, Elvis stopped by Sun Studio in Memphis in the middle of a Carl Perkins recording session. He ended up jamming with Carl and Sun’s newest artist, Jerry Lee Lewis. Johnny Cash was there, too – and thus the “Million Dollar Quartet” was born.
It wasn’t all work and no play for Elvis in ’56: He managed a few weeks of summer vacation in July.
1956 also saw Col. Parker distributing “Elvis for President” buttons for the first time, and in June he purchased a convertible Cadillac, which he would later have painted purple. That car is now on display at the Car Museum at Graceland.