Celebrated for generations, Elvis Presley’s impact on music, culture, and society is unrivalled. But where did the legend grow up?
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935 and grew up as an only child. Whilst he spent 13 years in the city, the latter half of his childhood was spent in Memphis, Tennessee, after his family made the move in 1948.
Read on to learn more about Presley’s childhood experiences in Tupelo and Memphis and his incredible contribution to music history.
Early Life in Tupelo
Born on January 8, 1935, Elvis Presley grew up in the small town of Tupelo, Mississippi, leading a drastically different lifestyle than his later success as a performer would allow.
The house he was born in consisted of two rooms and was built by his ancestors, but financial struggles for the Presley family resulted in the home being reclaimed by the bank when Presley was only a few years old.
Presley’s family were not alone in their financial misfortunes, as Elvis was born in the middle of the Great Depression. These struggles were worsened by Elvis’s father serving eight months in prison in 1938, for altering a check, an ordeal that was no doubt difficult for Elvis and his parents.
Despite having lost their home, Elvis and his family remained in Tupelo and moved frequently from house to house as renters. His working class family was part of a wider extended family of relatives who lived in the area and supported one another.
After enrolling at the local school in 1941, Elvis began to take guitar lessons and made his first public music performance at the encouragement of his teacher in 1945 at the Mississippi- Alabama Fair and Dairy Show talent show. His mother, identifying Elvis’s potential, bought him a guitar for his eleventh birthday, and the two would soon become inseparable.
Though Presley moved away from the town at the age of 13, he returned to Tupelo following his success and donated money to the community so that a youth centre and park could be built. The chairman of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation said of Elvis, “he always maintained his humble spirit and kept true to his roots in East Tupelo”.
Making the Move to Memphis
Seeking a better life for themselves, Presley’s family moved roughly eighty miles northwest of Elvis’s hometown to Memphis, Tennessee, in November 1948.
Presley enrolled at Humes High School and worked alongside his studies to support his family economically. Though times remained hard for his family, Presley’s real passion lay in his music and he absorbed music wherever he could find it.
Presley became known for his inseparability from his guitar and for his fashion choices, and was influenced massively by the music and style of Beale Street in Downtown Memphis, where blues music was a thriving scene.
Presley’s first glimpse of real success came when he competed in a talent show at his high school in 1953 and won first prize. The performance supposedly catalyzed his steady rise to fame and Elvis said of the event, “it was amazing how popular I became after that”.
Elvis graduated a few months later, and began to seek success as a musician that summer.
The King of Rock and Roll
From the humblest of beginnings in Tupelo and Memphis, Elvis would rise to have a career like no other.
Elvis’s career took off when he was discovered by the boss of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, in 1954, and Elvis soon became the leading rock and roll voice. He is the third best-selling music artist of all time and remains an enduring cultural icon.
Watch ‘The King’ perform his song ‘Hound Dog’ in the YouTube video below.