Elvis Presley is possibly the most celebrated entertainer of all time. He won Grammy Awards, has sold millions of records and his own Hall of Gold at his home can’t even hold all of his Gold, Platinum and Diamond Records, much less the countless other awards he won during his legendary career.
But his most treasured award wasn’t for making money or becoming a household name; it was for being a good man.
In 1970, Elvis was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men by the United States Junior Chamber, or the Jaycees. It was the only award he ever accepted in person, and it was the only award he carried with him every where he went for the rest of his life.
In celebration of Citizenship Day on September 17, let’s take a look at Elvis’ highest honor.
The Ten Outstanding Young Men program – now renamed the Ten Outstanding Young Americans – was created by the Jaycees in 1938 to honor 10 Americans, aged 18-40, who “best exemplify the highest attributes of the nation’s emerging generation,” according to the Jaycee’s website. Men and women who excel in all fields, including entertainment, sports, business, academics, politics, medicine, science, technology and humanitarian efforts, are honored.
In 1970, Elvis was close friends with Bill Morris. Bill was the Shelby County Sheriff, and he went on to serve as the mayor of Memphis. Bill nominated Elvis for inclusion in Ten Outstanding Young Men, thanks to his impact on music and culture, not to mention his charitable heart. Elvis constantly donated to charities, especially those in Memphis and Shelby County.
Elvis was incredibly honored by his inclusion in Ten Outstanding Young Men.
He and Priscilla attended the JCC prayer breakfast at the Memphis Holiday Inn Rivermont, and later that afternoon, United Nations ambassador-appointee and future U.S. President George H. W. Bush spoke at the JCC luncheon.
That evening, Elvis and Priscilla held a reception at Graceland for the award winners and Jaycee officials, followed by a formal dinner at the Four Flames Restaurant.
The 8 p.m. awards ceremony took place at Ellis Auditorium – a building very special to Elvis. He went to plenty of concerts there and eventually performed there himself as a young singer.
Elvis always commanded a stage, and that’s what he did with his heartfelt speech at the awards ceremony.
He quoted one of his favorite Roy Hamilton songs in his acceptance speech.
“When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed, has come true a hundred times,” he told the audience. “I learned very early in life that, ‘Without a song, the day would never end. Without a song, a man ain’t got a friend. Without a song, the road would never bend.’ So I keep singing a song.”
Hear Elvis’ speech on this week’s Graceland Podcast.
Elvis’ Ten Outstanding Young Men Award was one of his most prized possessions.
The trophy is named the JAYSON, which stands for Jaycees: Active Youth Serving Our Nation. Each one weighs 11.5 lbs and is made out of a marble base with nickel-plated hands.
Elvis took his trophy with him on all of his travels for the rest of his life, so it definitely shows some wear and tear – but that just shows how important it was to Elvis and how much he loved it. The trophy and the suit Elvis wore to the awards ceremony are both now on display at Graceland.
Elvis is, of course, in good company with his inclusion to Ten Outstanding Young Men.
Others who have received this honor include former U.S. President Bill Clinton (State Affairs, 1979); Wayne Newton (Entertainment, 1977); Howard Hughes (Business, 1938); Peyton Manning (Sports, 1999); Christopher Reeve (Entertainment, 1981); and Orson Welles (Drama, 1938 and 1941).
The Kennedy family has also been honored: John, Robert and Ted, all for National Affairs in 1946, 1954 and 1967, respectively, and Ted. Jr., for Human Improvement in 1999.
If you’ve never seen Elvis’ Ten Outstanding Young Men award, come see it today at Graceland.