Elvis Presley’s ‘If I Can Dream’

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue If I can dream of a better land Where all my brothers walk hand in hand Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true… April marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis. Dr. King’s assassination, as well as that of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, affected Elvis Presley deeply. These feelings led Elvis to give one of the most passionate performances of his career. America was in the midst of an upheaval in 1968. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing and our world and culture were changing. Within a short span of time, two leaders were assassinated. Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis – Elvis’ hometown. Robert Kennedy, a US Senator who strongly supported human rights and social justice, was killed two months later, on June 6. It was Elvis’ reaction to the news of Kennedy’s assassination that lead to the creation of the song “If I Can Dream,” a tribute song to King, featuring direct quotes from the Civil Rights leader. In the spring of ’68, Elvis was working on his upcoming TV special, “Elvis.” After seeing the news about Kennedy’s death on TV, Elvis spent an entire night with the show’s director, Steve Binder, and his friends, talking about the assassinations and Elvis’ wishes for the world. The conversation was heartfelt and honest, and Binder believed Elvis had an important message for the country. Binder then went to the show’s Musical Director Billy Goldenberg and songwriter Earl Brown and told them about the discussion. He wanted a powerful, meaningful song that would close out the TV special. Because the special was slated to air in December, the producers and Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, had planned to end the show with a Christmas song, but Binder had other ideas. It wasn’t long before “If I Can Dream” was born. Once the song was finished, Binder took the song to Elvis and played it for him. “Let me hear it again,” said Elvis, and the song was played again and again. “Okay,” Elvis said, “I’ll do it.” On June 23, 1968, Elvis recorded “If I Can Dream” in several impassioned takes, even though it is said that the first take Elvis gave was perfect. The king gave such a powerful...
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‘It Happened at the World’s Fair’ 55 Years Ago

“Elvis swinging higher than the Space Needle with the gals, the songs and the famous World’s Fair!” Elvis’ twelfth movie, “It Happened at the World’s Fair,” was released April 3, 1963, making this year its 55th anniversary. The musical comedy follows Mike (Elvis) and Danny (Gary Lockwood), crop duster pilots who travel to the World’s Fair in Seattle to pay off Danny’s gambling debts and to get their plane back from the local sheriff. Along the way, Danny plays poker to make some quick cash, and Mike woos a nurse, Diane (Joan O’Brien), and takes care of a little girl, Sue-Lin (Vicky Tiu), whose uncle has disappeared. “It Happened at the World’s Fair” was directed by Norman Taurog. The fair was called the Seattle Century 21 Exposition, so the name of the trailer park where Elvis’ character lived was called the “Center 21 Estates.” Many of the structures and buildings created for the fair are still used today in what’s now called the Seattle Center. The Space Needle, built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, is now a symbol for the city of Seattle, Washington. The 1962 World’s Fair drew millions of visitors from around the world. Child actress Vicky Tiu played Sue-Lin, the little girl Mike befriends and takes care of in the film. This was Vicky’s only movie role; as an adult, she became the first lady of Hawaii while her husband, Ben Cayetano, was the state’s governor. Yvonne Craig stars in “World’s Fair” as Dorothy. She later starred as Elvis’ leading lady in “Kissin’ Cousins,” and TV fans will recognize her as Batgirl from the 1960s TV show “Batman.” Actor Kurt Russell made his movie debut in “World’s Fair” as the “shin-kicker,” or “Boy Kicking Mike.” Russell was 10 at the time, and he’s featured in a small role where Mike asks him to kick him in the shins. Years later, he starred as Elvis in a TV movie biography. Elvis worked on the movie from late August through early November. Naturally, part of “It Happened at the World’s Fair” was filmed at the actual World’s Fair. Plenty of fans gathered near the film set to catch a glimpse of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. When he couldn’t make it outside, Elvis and his entourage stayed in their hotels and played pranks on the hotel staff. A favorite prank was to move all the furniture...
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60th Anniversary of Elvis’ Army Induction

In 1958, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll got a new job title: Private Presley. Just as Elvis’ fame was at its height, he stepped away from the stage, screen and studio to serve in the United States Army. This month, we’re celebrating the 60th anniversary of Elvis’ induction into the Army. We have some special things planned – more on that in a bit – but let’s get started on Elvis’ path to the military. Elvis’ first step toward the Army took place on January 4, 1957, as Elvis went to Kennedy Veterans Hospital in Memphis for a pre-induction physical to determine his draft status.   On December 16, 1957, the Memphis Draft Board announced that Elvis would soon receive his draft notice. On the 19th, Elvis heard that his induction notice was waiting for him, so on December 20, he picked up his notice in person. He told reporters later that day that serving in the Army was “a duty I’ve got to fill and I’m going to do it.” On Christmas Eve, Elvis contacted the Memphis Draft Board to formally request a deferment for the filming of his new movie, which would be “King Creole,” “so these folks will not lose so much money, with all they have done so far,” Elvis said. His deferment was granted on December 26. Elvis’ last recording sessions before his Army induction took place in early February in Hollywood. After he completed those recording sessions and the movie wrapped, Elvis returned to Memphis on March 14. Upon his arrival, a reporter asked him how his parents were taking the news that he was about to go into the Army. He admitted his mother, Gladys, was nervous for him – as any mother would be. He was also asked if he thought his fame would fade during his absence. “That’s the sixty-four-dollar question,” Elvis replied. “I wish I knew.” Elvis made sure he had plenty of fun in his hometown before shipping off to the military. In the days leading up to his induction, he shopped for records at Pop Tunes in Memphis (not far from his old home at Lauderdale Courts) and purchased “Looking Back” by Nat King Cole, “Maybe” by the Chantels, “Return to Me” by Dean Martin, “Too Soon to Know” by Pat Boone, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Don Gibson and “Sweet Little Darling” by Jo...
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Elvis Presley’s Memphis Turns One

Here on the Graceland Blog, we celebrate a lot of big anniversaries – 60 years of Elvis’ debut album, 55 years of Elvis’ movies, like “Wild in the Country,” 50 years of the ’68 Special, 45 years of “Elvis on Tour,” 35 years of Graceland opening to the public and so on. It’s rare that we get to celebrate a one-year anniversary, but here we are. Graceland’s entertainment and exhibit complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, was opened a year ago this weekend. Elvis Presley’s Memphis is a state-of-the-art entertainment and exhibit complex over 200,000-square-feet in size, and it allows fans to follow Elvis’ life path. You can surround yourself with the things he loved and experience the sights and sounds of Memphis, the city that inspired him. The complex houses two massive Elvis museums – Presley Motors, which houses his unique cars, and Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum, the world’s largest Elvis museum dedicated to the king’s legendary career – as well as several Discovery exhibits. The Discovery exhibits cover many aspects of Elvis’ life and show how he impacted the world. You can follow Elvis into the Army at the Private Presley Exhibit, peek in Elvis’ closet in the Fashion King exhibit and dig deep into the Graceland Archives in the Archives Experience. Presley Motors has its own smaller exhibit, Presley Cycles, which showcases Elvis’ motorcycles, boats and other motorized toys. Icons: The Influence of Elvis Presley is a favorite exhibit of many younger Elvis fans, as it showcases artifacts from singers, actors and other stars who were influenced by Elvis. In Icons, you’ll see items Justin Timberlake, John Lennon, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, KISS, Bruce Springsteen, Trisha Yearwood, Dolly Parton and more. Head on down to the “Mystery Train: Celebrating Sam Phillips” exhibit to learn more about the man who helped discover Elvis Presley.   The complex also features a Soundstage, where guests can watch Elvis movies and concerts, Graceland’s new ticket office and several food options, including restaurants named after Elvis’ parents: Gladys’ Diner and Vernon’s Smokehouse. There’s also a sweets shop named after Elvis’ grandma, Minnie Mae. At EPM, you can also stop in on the SiriusXM Elvis Radio booth and request your favorite song, play Elvis trivia or just chat with a DJ. Priscilla Presley was on hand for the complex’s grand opening weekend. The weekend also featured performances by Memphis-area musicians and dancers. The...
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‘Stay Away, Joe’ Turns 50

It’s the golden anniversary for Elvis’ high-spirited 26th movie, “Stay Away, Joe.” In “Joe,” Elvis stars as the title character, Joe Lightcloud, a rodeo star who is trying to help his Native American family, who lives on a reservation. Between business dealings and bucking broncos, Joe also stays busy wooing girls – including Mamie, who has marriage on her mind. “Joe” is based on Dan Cushman’s best-selling novel of the same name. Cushman, a Montana native, wrote more than 30 novels and won numerous awards. His “Stay Away Joe” book not only inspired Elvis’ movie but also a Broadway musical; both were praised for their comedy and criticized for the negative depiction of Native Americans. “Stay Away, Joe” features five Elvis songs. Elvis recorded those tunes – the title track, “All I Needed Was the Rain,” “Lovely Mamie,”Stay Away” and “Dominick” – on October 1, 1967. No accompanying soundtrack album was released along with the film. “Stay Away” was recorded on January 16, 1968, and was released as a single with “U.S. Male” on the B side. Filming began in Sedona and Cottonwood, Arizona, on October 9, 1967. Academy Award-winning cinematographer Fred J. Koenkamp worked on the movie and showed off the brilliant beauty of the area in the movie, and it remains a favorite location for the movie industry. A few other movies that have also been shot in the area include “3:10 to Yuma” (the 1957 version), “The Karate Kid” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” If you’re a fan of movies, there is no doubt you’ve seen a few of Elvis’ co-stars in other movies. Burgess Meredith played Joe’s father, Charlie Lightcloud. Meredith starred as the villainous Penguin in the “Batman” TV series in the 1960s, but he’s probably best known as trainer Mickey Goldmill in the “Rocky” films. He was nominated for many Academy and Emmy Awards. Classic film star Joan Blondell starred as Mamie’s mama, the gun-toting Glenda Callahan. She was born into Vaudeville and toured with her parents, and later made her debut on the Ziegfeld Follies in New York. She starred with James Cagney in Broadway productions and in six films. She married actor Dick Powell, and the pair made 10 musicals together. She was nominated for her work in films like “The Blue Veil,” “The Cincinnati Kid” and “Opening Night.” Quentin Dean played Mamie. She made her film debut just a year earlier...
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