‘Frankie and Johnny’ – Elvis Presley’s 20th Movie Turns 50

Everybody come aboard! “Frankie and Johnny” turns 50 this month. This colorful musical-comedy about riverboat performers, fortune-tellers and – of course – love, was released in March 1966. Elvis stars as Johnny alongside Donna Douglas (Frankie), Nancy Kovack (Nellie Bly), Harry Morgan (Cully) and Sue Ane Langdon (Mitzi). “Frankie and Johnny” was Elvis’ 20th movie, made just after “Harum Scarum” and before “Paradise, Hawaiian Style.” “Frankie and Johnny” grossed more than $2 million, and the soundtrack album spent 19 weeks on the chart. “Frankie and Johnny” is based on a folk song of the same name. Elvis’ version is just one of many versions of the traditional tune. All versions tell the tale of Frankie, who shoots Johnny when she finds out he’s romancing Nellie Bly, but in some versions, she’s also arrested and, in some, executed. The song’s lyrics blur the line between fiction and fact, but the lyrics are based on an actual murder case from 1899 in St. Louis, Missouri. In that case, a woman named Frankie shot her boyfriend, Johnny, when she caught him on a date with another woman. It was such a famous case that Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton recreated Frankie and Johnny’s story for one in a series of murals in 1934. The murals were placed at the state capitol, and a reproduction of this mural was on display during filming the movie. Luckily for Elvis fans, the movie is much more lighthearted, complete with a happy ending. In the film version, Johnny is a down-on-his-luck gambler who is told by a fortune-teller that a red-head will be his good luck charm. His girlfriend Frankie isn’t happy when Johnny starts to woo the red-headed Nellie Bly. Elvis had a few famous co-stars for this film. Donna Douglas has starred on many TV shows over the years, but audiences fell for her as Elly May on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Harry Morgan enjoyed a long, prolific career”, with roles in TV shows like “M*A*S*H,” “Dragnet” and “Gunsmoke.” The glamorous Nancy Kovack had roles on TV shows like “Bewitched” and “Star Trek,” and in films like “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Diary of a Madman” and “Enter Laughing.” And Elvis fans recognize Sue Ane Langdon – she also starred in Elvis’ film “Roustabout.” Robert Strauss, who starred as Blackie, played Sam in Elvis’ “Girls! Girls! Girls!” Frederick De Cordova directed “Frankie and Johnny,” as well...
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Elvis Presley’s First Album

“Well it’s a-one for the money…” So starts an album that changed history – Elvis Presley’s very first album. With its raw and exciting mix of country and blues, this was one of the first rock ‘n’ roll albums ever made, and it helped catapult the young 21-year-old singer to stardom. “Elvis Presley,” the album, turns 60 years old this month. On November 21, 1955, Elvis’ contract at Sun was purchased by RCA, and he was officially on a major label. RCA paid $35,000 – an unheard of amount at the time – for the soon-to-be-crowned King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.   He’d recorded many songs at Sun, but not all of them had been released by the time he signed with RCA. RCA re-released all five of his original Sun singles on their label in December 1955 after they bought his contract. He had his first RCA recording sessions in January 1956, and he’d cut what would become one of his biggest hits, “Heartbreak Hotel.” As “Heartbreak Hotel” climbed the charts, Elvis also made his national TV debut on the Dorsey Brothers’ “Stage Show,” with six appearances in the first three months of 1956. To capture some of this early Elvis energy, RCA put together Elvis’ eponymous first album, with a mix of Sun Studio cuts and some of the tunes he’d recorded in those first RCA studio sessions. RCA actually struggled to re-create that clean, crisp Sun sound, so those first few recording sessions took a bit of work on the label’s part. “I Love You Because,” “Just Because,” “I’ll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin’)” “Trying to Get to You” and “Blue Moon” were the Sun Studio cuts included on Elvis’ album. “Heartbreak Hotel,” though it was a hit, wasn’t included on the album and remained a single. “Elvis Presley,” which has gone both Gold and Platinum since its March 23, 1956, release, features one of the most iconic album covers of all time. The famous photo was taken while Elvis and his band were performing in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 1955. Many other musicians have created their own versions of this cover, like The Clash’s 1979 album “London Calling,” which features “London Calling” in pink and green letters and Clash bassist Paul Simonon smashing his bass on stage at The Palladium in New York City.   Elvis’ album cover ranks No. 40 in Rolling...
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Elvis Presley’s Audubon Home

These days, everyone knows the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll lived in his own castle: Graceland. But when you’re somewhere between up-and-coming star and legendary rock star, where do you call home? The answer: 1034 Audubon Drive, Memphis, Tennessee.   Elvis and his parents, Gladys and Vernon, moved to Memphis when Elvis was 13, and for the next eight years, the family lived in several apartments and homes. But in early 1956, Elvis found success with a little tune you may have heard – “Heartbreak Hotel” – and he used the profits from that to purchase a home for his family in Memphis. This home was the first owned by the Presleys in Memphis. Elvis purchased the home from the Welsh Plywood Corporation for $29,500, on March 12, 1956. He paid a $500 down payment on March 3. The Audubon Drive home, built in 1954, has four bedrooms and two and a half baths. It didn’t have a fence at first, but as Elvis’ popularity grew, he added one. The fence even included some music notes, though those have since been removed. Elvis also had a pool installed.   Elvis’ neighbors on Audubon Drive truly had a rock star as a neighbor. He’d already made his first national television appearances. His first album arrived in stores about a week and a half after he purchased the house. He performed hundreds of concerts across the country. Audubon Drive was his home while he made his first movie, “Love Me Tender.” After he jammed out with his fellow Memphis musicians in the Million Dollar Quartet, he went home to – you guessed it – Audubon Drive. Elvis and his parents lived on Audubon Drive for about a year before they purchased Graceland, which he called home for the rest of his life. Today, 1034 Audubon Drive is privately owned. If you love learning about Elvis, his life and his music, come to Memphis and visit Graceland. Watch our first “Hidden Graceland” episode of our web series, Gates of Graceland to see a special mirror that Elvis brought with him from Audubon to...
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Elvis Presley’s Tour Dates in 1956

The music industry in 2016 is very different from the music industry in 1956, but one thing is still true: Touring is practically a must if you want to find new fans. Elvis Presley’s career was just starting to soar in 1956. It was an incredibly busy year, both professionally and personally. Not only did he record and release some of his most legendary songs, but he also released his first album and made his first movie. He also purchased his first home. Fans heard his music on the radio and watched his national television appearances, but Elvis also gained thousands of new fans by doing quite a bit of touring in 1956. Including travels to New York City and Los Angeles to appear on television shows, Elvis made over 110 tour stops in 1956. That’s quite a lot – and not only that, he often performed several times in one day, performing, for example, in the afternoon and evenings (bringing the number of concerts he actually performed in 1956 up to over 200). That workload is almost unheard of today; most artists only perform once per tour stop. The map below gives an idea of Elvis’ tour stops in 1956. Just based on traveling from city to city (not venue to venue) to perform at a concert, Elvis traveled roughly more than 41,000 miles (over 67,000 km) and visited 26 states as well as Washington D.C.   View Full Size Travel Map at Travellerspoint Here are a few more details about Elvis’ 1956 tour: Elvis’ first performance in 1956 took place in St. Louis, Missouri on January 1. His final performance of 1956 was December 15 and was in Shreveport, Louisiana, at the Louisiana Hayride. He often returned to Shreveport for Hayride performances between January and March. His last regular appearance on the Hayride was in March, followed by his final appearance there in December. At the end of the December show, Horace Logan first made the now legendary phrase, “Elvis has left the building.” Elvis performed on a variety of stages in ’56. He performed everywhere from TV sets to auditoriums to high school gymnasiums to a university’s field house. The size of the towns varied, too, from major cities like Atlanta, Detroit and San Diego to small towns like Randolph, Mississippi (not far from Tupelo, where he was born). Elvis returned to Tupelo for a concert on September 26,...
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Elvis Presley and the Grammy Awards

Seeing Elvis’ many awards and Gold and Platinum Records is one of the most memorable aspects of touring Graceland. Whether it’s the Hall of Gold – a long hallway full of Gold records and awards – or the Trophy Room in the Racquetball Building – where awards and Gold, Platinum and Diamond Records cover the walls up to the ceiling – both locations leave fans in awe of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Right now at Graceland, fans can see three of Elvis’ most prestigious awards: his Grammy Awards, all of which he won for his gospel music. He was nominated for many more songs and albums, though – do you know which ones? The 58th annual Grammy Awards are Monday, February 15, so let’s take a look at these awards and how Elvis has been honored. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences present the Grammy Awards to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry. It’s the music equivalent to the Academy Awards, given for achievement in film, the Emmy Awards, for television, and the Tony Awards, for stage performance. The first Grammy Awards ceremony was in the spring of 1959, so some of Elvis’ earliest hits (like “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and many more) couldn’t have been nominated. But Elvis was nominated in that first year: “A Fool Such as I” was a nominee for Record of the Year (which lost to Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife”) and “A Big Hunk O’ Love” was nominated for both Best Performance by a Top 40 Artist and Best Rhythm and Blues Performance. In 1960, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll earned several Grammy nods. “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was nominated for Record of the Year; Best Vocal Performance Single Record or Track, Male; and Best Performance by a Pop Single Artist. The instrumental “The Theme from A Summer Place” won that year for Record of the Year. Also in 1960, “G.I. Blues” was nominated for Best Vocal Performance Album, Male; and Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Original Cast from a Motion Picture or Television. The next year, “Blue Hawaii” was also nominated for Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Original Cast from a Motion Picture or Television. It lost to the “West Side Story” soundtrack. Elvis became a Grammy winner in 1967. His second gospel record, “How Great Thou Art” won Best Sacred Performance....
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