Elvis Presley’s Homecoming ConcertPosted by Elvis Presley's Graceland on Sep 23, 2016 | 13 comments
Just 21 years after he was born there, and eight years after he left with his family as a young teen, Elvis Presley returned to Tupelo, Mississippi, as a star.
Sixty years ago this month, Elvis performed a homecoming concert to celebrate his whirlwind success. In his touring years, Elvis performed many concerts in and around Tupelo, but this show, on September 26, 1956, was the big one, complete with a parade, thousands of fans and lots of press.
Elvis performed that day in 1956 at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, and it was actually his third time to perform at the fair. When he was 10, he had entered a talent contest at the fair, where he sang “Old Shep” and came in fifth place. Elvis and his band returned to the fairgrounds in 1955 to perform a set alongside artists such as Webb Pierce and Wanda Jackson, but he wasn’t the star of the show.
1956 was, as we’ve covered before on this blog, a turning point for Elvis’ career. He’d recorded and released his debut album, performed several times on national television – including the prestigious “Ed Sullivan Show” – and was filming his first movie. Elvis was Tupelo’s most famous hometown boy, and the town wanted to celebrate him.
The celebrations included a parade through downtown Tupelo, which Elvis didn’t attend – his manager, Col. Tom Parker, feared for Elvis’ safety in such a big crowd. But the town enjoyed the parade anyway, and encouraged participants to create Elvis-themed floats.
Elvis performed two shows that day, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Admission to the fair was typically 25 cents for children and 50 cents for adults, and the day of Elvis’s show, they charged 75 cents for everyone. Admission to Elvis’ show was $1.50.
Elvis and his parents, his girlfriend Barbara Hearn and his friend Nick Adams all drove down from Memphis for the show. Elvis wore a beautiful blue velvet shirt made for him by Natalie Wood’s dressmaker.
Elvis, backed by his band and the Jordanaires, performed thrilling shows, and thousands of fans were in attendance – anywhere from 5,000 to 12,000 to 50,000, depending on what news report you believe. Teenage fans rushed the stage, somehow defying the massive security team, and Elvis encouraged them to be safe – and they did. In the audience that day – in fact, in the front row – was a young Tammy Wynette. Tammy – born Virginia Wynette Pugh – was from the neighboring town of Tremont, so she didn’t have far to drive for the show.
For both performances, Elvis sang his hits like “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Tupelo Mayor James L. Ballard gave Elvis a key to the city, which was in the shape of a guitar and featured his initials and the words “Welcome Home, Tupelo, Miss.” Mississippi Governor J.P. Coleman presented Elvis with a certificate and called him “America’s number one entertainer in the world of popular music.”
Elvis also took the time to speak to the press in between sets, thanking the city for honoring him and talking about his upcoming movie career.
Elvis returned to the fairgrounds in 1957 to perform again, this time to raise money for a youth center that was slated to be built near his birthplace in East Tupelo.
Today, the area where the fairgrounds were located is now called Fairpark, home to a park, amphitheater and Tupelo City Hall. The city erected a statue of Elvis in the park in 2012, and it depicts a famous photo of Elvis taken at the fair in 1956. Fans from across the world travel to Tupelo to not only see the birthplace, but to take selfies with the Elvis statue and to touch the statue’s outstretched hand.
Love learning about Elvis? Get schooled on everything Elvis at Graceland!