The celebration of Elvis Presley’s 85th birthday anniversary shines a spotlight on Tupelo’s native son whose musical and entertainment celebrity make him the most famous Mississippian.
Presley, born in poverty in what was then East Tupelo on Jan. 8, 1935, moved to Memphis with his parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, when he was 13. Tupelo is where the music that would shake, rattle and roll the entertainment world began to find expression.
He died unexpectedly in 1977 at age 42, but he arguably is one of the few entertainers whose popularity and recognition have grown and spread after death, thanks in part to technology that makes access to his image and music more widely available to almost every place in the world. Some Tupeloans are his cousins, and some of his early childhood friends remain among his most ardent fans with uniquely personal memories.
Elvis’ meteoric rise to stardom and wealth in the mid-1950s reshaped the hometown relationship, with two benchmark concerts defining, in part, those early years of spectacular success.
The Wall Street Journal, 64 years ago, noted Presley’s impact on the youth culture, the same year, 1956, that he made one of his fairgrounds appearances in Tupelo.
It is fully in the spirit of Presley’s personal success for Tupelo, as his birthplace, to market Elvis tourism as one of the city’s economic strengths and attractions. Southeast Tourism Society recently has named the Tupelo Elvis Festival again one of the STS Top 20 Events in the Southeast for June 2020.
This year’s birthday activities include a birthday party and concert today at the birthplace, a market unveiling on Thursday and lots of Elvis food on Friday. It wraps up Saturday with the “Blue Suede Shoes” performance by the Alabama Ballet.
He is widely acknowledged as the most famous Mississippian and the most famous Southerner; his name is honored worldwide, and Tupelo clearly is identified as the beginning of his personal journey.