Elvis Week Day 7 - Inspiring Moments at the 2016 Candlelight Vigil

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Welcome to the official blog of Elvis Presley’s Graceland! You can take Elvis-inspired quizzes, get first-looks on events here at Graceland and how-to guides on everything you need to know about Elvis and his home. Like Elvis, we come with a little southern charm

Elvis Week Day 7 - Inspiring Moments at the 2016 Candlelight Vigil

By Jon Waterhouse

It never fails. Even after attending multiple Candlelight Vigils, the annual fan gathering and tribute at Graceland on the eve of the anniversary of Elvis’ death, I become awestruck at the event.

This year, collective emotions arguably higher than ever, the amount of love pouring forth like the unrelenting rain inspired me to no end. Fans of every color, creed and geographic origin imaginable came together, a visual answer to Walter Earl Brown’s lyrics found in “If I Can Dream,” which Presley sang on the “’68 Comeback Special.”

“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?”

Last night, once again, that dream came true.


The fans who came early

Several hours before the official 8:30 p.m. start time, fans began camping in front of the Graceland walls along Elvis Presley Boulevard breaking out their folding chairs, coolers and more. Now that’s dedication. A short summer shower turned the Memphis air into a virtual sauna. “It’s a pleasure to see the traditions that have been established carry on, as you would expect from the Elvis fans who have been here year after.” said Walker McCutcheon of Clarksville, Tenn. who sat in Graceland Plaza with wife Judy until start time. Among the die hard fans, I saw Cino Torricer from Hawaii, who handed out inspirational cards to those around him.

The memorials

Just before the Vigil began, many memorials along Elvis Presley Boulevard could be seen, some glowing in the darkness. A Memphis gentleman simply known as Fite created a memorial with images of Elvis, each with a special significance to him. A giant ticket stub replica from Elvis’ final concert in Indianapolis, Ind. sat in front of a massive version of the “’68 Comeback Special” album cover.

The Graceland staff

Never mind the weather and other obstacles threatening to damper the evening. The staff at Elvis Presley Enterprises, from security guards and retail clerks to marketing execs, channeled Elvis’ positivity and optimism with style, grace and smiles. The rain sprinkling upon him, Kevin Kern, the director of public relations at Elvis Presley Enterprises, welcomed everyone from the top of the Graceland driveway, his speech broadcast down to a jumbo screen perched above the mansion’s walls.

The fans who braved the rain

The U.S. Postal Service has nothing on Elvis fans. Thunder and pounding precipitation couldn’t wash away the Candlelight Vigil. Thousands packed Elvis Presley Boulevard, and shortly after 8:30 p.m. they began filing up the Graceland driveway with candles in hand. The trees along the Graceland driveway helped shield some of the candles from the raindrops. As guests returned from visiting Presley’s grave, I watched as they passed D.J. Fontana, Elvis’ original drummer, who shook the hands of fans.

Elvis Radio

The Elvis Radio disc jockeys, soaked to the bone, brought the play-by-play of the Candlelight Vigil to the rest of the world via SiriusXM satellite radio. The Elvis Radio studio, located smack in the middle of Graceland Plaza, bustled with fans seeking refuge from the elements beneath the adjacent awning. There I saw Big Jim Sykes and Doctor Robb Walker mingle with fellow fans, including Shantay Wood and Angie Simpson, each of them dripping from the rain. With grins stretching across their faces, you would’ve thought it was 75 degrees and sunny.


Earlier yesterday afternoon, I took a tour of the Graceland mansion with a fresh set of eyes. Just days before, I sat backstage at the Main Stage at Graceland with Bill Eubanks listening to his stories about serving as the king’s interior designer. Responsible for assisting Presley in decorating and designing several rooms at Graceland, including the black- and gold-hued TV room, Eubanks has memories by the wallpaper load.

A leader in his field, Eubanks continues designing for a variety of clients, including rock star Rod Stewart. The award-winning international designer even created the William R. Eubanks Distinguished Lecture Series in Interior Design at the University of Memphis. An array of additional accolades and credentials to his name, Eubanks counts his work with Elvis, his first major project as a young designer still in school, as something special.

On how designing for Elvis shaped his approach:

I like to look through my clients’ eyes. If I can accomplish what their vision is, I’ve been successful in my project. And I accomplished the vision Elvis wanted, and I made him very, very happy. Aside from that, it was a successful project, no matter what it looked like. It looked like what he saw in his mind’s eye. So from there it just became a method that I always held strong to, from clients on Park Avenue to Fifth Avenue to Beverly Hills. It’s always the same. If I accomplish what my client wants, I know I’ve been successful. I had a female client in New York on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. It was a gorgeous apartment. She hadn’t been in the apartment from the time we started construction until the time we finished. When were done, I had everyone lined up, the contractors, everybody there. We had champagne. She walked into the gallery at the entrance, and I walked her into the main salon. And she started to cry. I thought to myself, “Oh, my God. What have I done?” And she looked at me with electric blue eyes and said, “You’ve been inside my head.” And that was the moment I waited for. That’s what I live for today. And it was the same thing with Elvis. I had been inside his head. It was great that at such a young tender age that's what spurred me on for the rest of my career.

On Elvis’ design ideas:

He had his ideas of the colors and the TCB lightning bolt in the media room. Of course, that was his idea. He said, “Let’s do the super graphic.” We were in the 1970s and that mod period. The TVs were very 1960s, but he wanted them because (President) Lyndon B. Johnson (had them set up the same in the White House.) He wanted the painted panel walls, and he wanted the mirrored ceiling. ...It was truly his framework for me. You can imagine how I felt after being a kid growing up with him as an idol, and then driving out here to Graceland. There were throngs of people outside, and you drive up to the gates, and they actually open. For me, that was a big deal. And that’s carried through the rest of my career.

On Elvis as a client:

Of all the clients I’ve had, the experience with Elvis was by far the best and most interesting. He was full of life, and he and (girlfriend) Linda (Thompson) were like kids in a candy store. They were excited about what they were doing. They loved the energy that was happening when we were putting things together, and we just had a fabulous time.

Posted by Elvis Presley's Graceland at 2:08 PM
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