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Elvis

Early Childhood

For Elvis Presley, childhood and adolescence were difficult and often involved working to help the family with finances. He picked up music early from local gospel groups and picked up the guitar when he was only 11 years old. Read on to learn more about Elvis Presley as a child and get to know what early life was like for America’s iconic singer.

January 8, 1935

In Tupelo, Mississippi, shortly before dawn, in a two-room house built by her husband, Vernon Presley, and her brother-in-law, Gladys Presley gives birth to twin sons. The first, Jessie Garon, is born stillborn. The second, Elvis Aaron, is born alive and healthy. Elvis would be their only child.

1935 - 1948

Elvis grows up within a close-knit, working class family, consisting of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all live near one another 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. Elvis attends the Assembly of God Church with his family, and the music and preaching register deeplywith Elvis Presley. Childhood influences include black blues-men in the neighborhood and country music radio programs enjoyed by his family.


October 3, 1945

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. Winning fifth prize, Elvis receives $5.00 in fair ride tickets. This is one of the first public musical performances for Elvis Presley as a child.


1946

Elvis’ parents cannot afford a bicycle that Elvis wants, so Gladys talks him into accepting a guitar instead. Elvis' first guitar costs $12.95 and is purchased at the Tupelo Hardware Company.


November 6, 1948

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, strap it 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 family would follow.


1948 - 1953

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 L.C. Humes High School. Elvis works at various jobs to help support himself and his parents. The Presley-Smith family 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.


1953

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 as a birthday present for his mother, Gladys. Sam Phillips records Elvis singing "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," and afterwards tells his assistant Marion Keisker something that made her write down in her notes, "Good ballad singer. Hold.”


To find out what happened after the Elvis Presley childhood years, read Elvis' life and career from 1954 - 1957. Also, be sure to keep up with the latest Elvis news by following @VisitGraceland on Twitter or liking Elvis Presley's Graceland on Facebook.