Elvis grows up within a close-knit, working class family,
consisting of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles,
and cousins, who all live near each other in Tupelo.
There is little money, but Vernon and Gladys do their
best to provide for their son, who is the center of their
lives. They move from one house to another in Tupelo, and
even live in Biloxi, Mississippi for a short while,
returning to Tupelo. Elvis attends the Assembly of God
Church with his family, and the music and preaching
Other influences are black bluesmen in the neighborhood
and country music radio programs enjoyed by his family.
Ten-year-old Elvis stands on a chair at a microphone and
sings "Old Shep" in a youth talent contest at
the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, held in
Tupelo. The talent show is broadcast over WELO Radio.
Second prize is $5.00 and free admission to all the rides
at the fair.
Elvis's parents cannot afford a bicycle that Elvis wants,
so Gladys talks him into accepting a guitar instead.
Elvis's first guitar costs $12.95 and is purchased at the
Tupelo Hardware Company. The bicycle would have to wait
until Christmas of 1947.
Elvis plays his guitar and sings "Leaf on a
Tree" for his Milam Junior High class in Tupelo as a
farewell. Elvis and his parents pack their belongings in
a trunk strapped to the roof of their 1939 Plymouth and
move to Memphis, Tennessee in search of a better life
economically. Other members of the Presley and Smith clan
Elvis and his parents live in public housing or low rent
homes in the poor neighborhoods of north Memphis. Life
continues to be hard. Vernon and Gladys go from job to
job, and Elvis attends The Christine School, then Humes
High School. Elvis works at various jobs to help support
himself and his parents. The Presley-Smith clan remains
close-knit, and Elvis and his family attend the Assembly
of God Church. The teenage Elvis continues to be known
for singing with his guitar. He buys his clothes on Beale
Street and he absorbs the black blues and gospel he hears
there. He's also a regular audience member at the
all-night white, and black, gospel sings that are held
downtown. He wears his hair long (compared to the day's
standards) and slick, and lets
his sideburns grow. He's really different from the other
kids, a good-natured misfit.
While at Humes High, Elvis nervously sings with his
guitar at a student talent show. Much to his own
amazement, he gets more applause than anyone else and
wins, then performs an encore. The acceptance feels good.
June 3, 1953
Elvis graduates from Humes High School.
Elvis works at Parker Machinists Shop right after
graduation. That summer he drops by The Memphis Recording
Service, home of the Sun label and makes a demo acetate
of "My Happiness" and "That's When Your
Heartaches Begin" for a cost of about $4.00. (The
studio came to be known as Sun Studio though never
officially named that until many years later. For
simplicity this text uses the name Sun Studio.) The
studio owner isn't in, so his assistant, Marion Keisker
handles the session. Elvis wants to see what his voice
would sound like on a record and he has vague aspirations
to be a singer. He takes the acetate home, and reportedly
gives it to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday
present. By the fall, he is working at Precision Tool
Company, and soon changes jobs again, going to work for
Crown Electric Company. At Crown, he does
various jobs, including driving a delivery truck. He also
goes to night school and studies to be an electrician.