Elvis Presley’s Memphis Stages

Memphis, Tennessee, wasn’t just Elvis’ home; it was also his stage.

From small clubs to large coliseums, Elvis performed in many different Bluff City venues throughout his career. A few weeks ago on the Graceland Blog, we looked at the Presley family’s Memphis homes and apartments. This week, let’s look at a few of the Memphis venues where Elvis wowed his fans.


Elvis’ career started small, with gigs at the Bel-Air Club and the Bon Air Club. But his first official billed performance was on July 30, 1954, at the Overton Park Shell – now known as the Levitt Shell.

This is the Shell as it looks today.

This is the Shell as it looks today.

Elvis – billed as Ellis Presley – opened for Slim Whitman, and he was so nervous his legs began to shake. It worked in his favor, and he left that show with a host of new fans.

That gig got Elvis and his band a solid booking at The Eagle’s Nest, a country-western club that was just outside the Memphis city limits. The guys played weekend shows for the next three months of 1954.

Elvis hangs out at the Eagle's Nest in 1954.

Elvis at the Eagle’s Nest in 1954.

 

Here's an ad for one of Elvis' shows at the Eagle's Nest.

Here’s an ad for one of Elvis’ shows at the Eagle’s Nest.

The Eagle’s Nest was steady work, but Elvis wanted more. His career blossomed: He performed at the Grand Ole Opry, which didn’t go well, so he signed with the Louisiana Hayride.

Many of Elvis’ early shows were in high school and junior high auditoriums. In early February 1955, he performed at Messick High School and Messick Junior High School in Memphis. These were no ordinary shows; he actually performed there to help promoter Bob Neal’s son, Sonny, in his campaign for the student council.

Elvis and his band performed at Messick High and Junior High School auditoriums in winter 1955.

Elvis and his band performed at Messick High and Junior High School auditoriums in winter 1955.

Elvis’ next venue was one he knows well: Ellis Auditorium. His Humes High School graduation ceremony was held in that same venue, and just a few years later, he returned as a young rock star at the start of his career.

He shared the stage with the likes of Faron Young, and in between shows, promoter Bob Neal arrangeed a meeting between Sun Records president Sam Phillips, Col. Tom Parker and Tom Diskin across the street from the auditorium. They were all, of course, interested in Elvis.

Though he was the hometown star, Elvis is listed low on the bill for his first Ellis Auditorium performance.

Though he was the hometown star, Elvis is listed low on the bill for his first Ellis Auditorium performance.

On August 5, 1955, Elvis returned for a show at the Shell. Fans enjoyed his previous Shell show, but they really loved him at this concert.

The concert was Bob Neal’s eighth annual Country Music Jamboree, and Elvis shared the stage with Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce and Sonny James. The show drew more than 4,000 fans.

Elvis hangs out backstage at the Overton Park Shell on August 5, 1955.

Elvis backstage at Overton Park Shell on August 5, 1955.

 

Elvis' Overton Park Shell performance makes the local paper.

Elvis’ Overton Park Shell performance makes the local paper.

By this point, Elvis’ career is on fire. In a short amount of time, he signed with RCA, made television appearances and continued to tour. Elvis’ next performance in Memphis was May 15, 1956, at Ellis Auditorium, for Bob Neal’s Cotton Pickin’ Jamboree. Elvis was billed above the likes of Hank Snow and the Jordanaires. Neal announced to the the crowd that Elvis would return to Memphis for a charity concert on July 4 of the same year.

That concert took place at Russwood Park in Memphis. During the show, Elvis told his fans, “You know those people in New York are not going to change me none. I’m gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight.”

Elvis had purchased his home on Audubon Drive by the time this show happened. Earlier in the day, he'd went home to see that his new pool was being filled.

Elvis had purchased his home on Audubon Drive by the time this show happened. Earlier in the day, he went home to see that his new pool was being filled.

Elvis Presley goes from a star to a superstar in no time. In just the next few years, he performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, filmed several movies, served in the Army and, of course, purchased his beloved Memphis mansion, Graceland. He’s not just a local Memphis performer – he’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. No matter where he went or what he did, he always returned home to Memphis. But his next performance in the Bluff City wasn’t until February 25, 1961, at his old stomping grounds – Ellis Auditorium’s North Hall.

It was a charity concert, and Col. Parker told fans that even Elvis will have to purchase a ticket to get in. February 25, 1961 was declared Elvis Presley Day by Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb and Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington.

There were two shows that day, one at 3 p.m. and another at 8:30 p.m. The afternoon show drew 3,860, while the evening show drew 6,540. Comedian George Jessel introduceed Elvis as “one of the greatest singer-actors of this century.” The shows raised $51,612, with $47,823 distributed among 26 Memphis charities, and $3,789 went to the Elvis Presley Youth Center in Tupelo.

A ticket for Elvis' charity concert in Memphis in 1961.

A ticket for Elvis’ 1961 charity concert in Memphis.

 

Elvis performs at Ellis Auditorium in 1961. After the show, he hosted a party at Graceland.

Elvis performed  at Ellis Auditorium in 1961. After the show, he hosted a party at Graceland.

It’s another 13 years before Elvis performs in Memphis again. He was, of course, pretty busy during those years – he married Priscilla and started a family, wowed fans with his iconic ’68 Special, performed hundreds of sold-out shows in Las Vegas, made movies and toured.

His next shows in Memphis were in March 1974 at the Mid-South Coliseum. The first four shows that are initially booked sold out immediately. A fifth show was booked, and it was this show, on March 20, that was recorded and later released as Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis (complete with Graceland as its cover image).

Elvis won his third Grammy Award for Best Inspirational Performance for the live version of “How Great Thou Art” on this album.

Elvis won three Grammy Awards, and all were for his gospel music.

Elvis won three Grammy Awards, and all were for his gospel music.

 

Elvis' March 1974 performances in Memphis were his last in his hometown.

Elvis’ March 1974 performances took place at the Mid-South Coliseum. His last performance in Memphis was in 1976.

Memphis was everything to Elvis, and he always came home – either to rest and relax or to wow his fans on stage.

Get closer to Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll here at Elvis’ Memphis mansion, Graceland.

Elvis’ Grammy Awards, concert memorabilia and stagewear are all on display at the king’s castle. Plan your Graceland experience today.

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18 Comments

  1. Craig Shepard

    These pics, messages and information is fantastic ! Much appreciate all that you do at EPE..

    Craig, fan since the beginning of it all…

  2. gina barker

    I love every thing elvis,Ihave visited Graceland it was one of the best days of my life,I have loved Elvis since i first heard him sing heart break hotel in 1956 i have loved him & his music ever since

  3. Isabel Watson

    Visited Graceland about five years ago. Hope to come again next year. Love Elvis.

  4. Linda Kines

    Ilove Elvis, have since I was 12 years old. Would love to receive the E news letter. Thank you, thank you very much.LK

  5. kay loughran

    I have loved Elvis since I was 10 years old. I visited Graceland in 2007. What an amazing time I had. Now at aged 52 I love him even more. Xx

  6. I been an Elvis fan since I was 12. There will never be another singer/entertainer like him !!

  7. Cool pics! Never seen ’em before and new info, did not know! Keep it up!

    Farrell

  8. SOME OF ELVIS BEST PERFORMANCES WERE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS AT THE LEVIT SHELL AND MID SOUTH COLISUM

  9. Sam Gomez

    thank you!

  10. Elvis Presley will always be my mentor. Thank you for all the information, it’s well taken. love you all at Graceland. Jay Polati.

  11. Thoroughly enjoyed Graceland….wonderful tribute to him.

  12. Bernie McLaughlin

    ELVIS IS THE ONE AND ONLY KING OF IT ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. BethAnne Weatherford

    Love this! Makes me proud to be an Elvis fan…He was quite an inspiration!

  14. Mike Freeman

    The Shelby County Historical Commission will create a historical marker at the Levitt Shell with the help of the Levitt Foundation. Marker text will include the two shows Elvis performed there at the start of his career.

  15. Love Elvis. Visited Graceland on 7th October. Loved it so much I went back on the 11th. Now home in the Uk but maybe one day I might be able to visit again!

  16. Enjoyed reading the articles of Faron Young,Ferlin Huskey and the Wilburn Brothers. Brought back memories when I was a little girl. Loved the pics of Elvis and info where he entertained in the 50’s. Always enjoy going to Memphis with all it had to offer. Never went there without going to Graceland. Elvis will always hold a special place in my heart.

  17. Marlys Bowden

    Loved reading all of this thanks to my new FB frien John Waldgg. I have been to Graceland twice and intend to go again. I saw “Elvis” in person io 1972 in Vegas… A Memory Forever !

    • Goodness Marlys, you sure are very lucky. I am 16 and been to Graceland twice now. My first trip was last year when I was 14. Talk about a life changing experience. Since that day, I’ve been a die hard Elvis Presley fan. Proud of it too. I’m making a third trip with my best friend next year, who is 15 and loves Elvis because of me. I’m very blessed to be able to visit Graceland like I can now in this day and age, but I’d surely give up absolutely everything just to see Elvis perform one time. Whether it be his first show or his last show. I love Elvis no matter what. <3

      Thank you dearly E.P.E.,
      Olivia

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