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HYBRID (ZOOM) Early Elvis: Elvis Presley in the 1950s   

**This class is a Hybrid. This section of the class will be taught on Zoom**

**Note that this is a three week course.**

In 1956, Elvis Presley became early rock’n’roll’s biggest superstar with the #1 hit “Heartbreak Hotel,” followed by huge smashes like “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” This three-session course details his seismic impact on both popular music and youth culture, starting with his rise to stardom with his innovative fusion of country and blues into rockabilly in 1954 and 1955 with Sun Records in Memphis. His peak years with RCA in 1956 and 1957 are also detailed, along with his entry into movie stardom and the conclusion of his most exciting years with his 1958 induction into the Army.


Week by Week Outline


Week One

The Birth of Elvis: The Mid-‘50s Sun Records

A. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935, Elvis grows up in poor-to-modest circumstances, immersing himself in Southern gospel, country, blues, and pop as a teenager after his family moves to Memphis.

B. With guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Elvis starts making rockabilly records fusing country and blues with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records in mid-1954. His electric live performances start building a strong regional following throughout the South.

C. Presley’s five Sun singles in 1954 and 1955 also fuel his exploding popularity, and start to draw national attention. With Colonel Tom Parker as manager, in late 1955 he signs a deal with one of the most powerful record labels, RCA, who pay an unprecedented $35,000-40,000 to Sun for his contract.

Other themes: Sun Records’ pioneering recording of blues and early rockabilly artists; Elvis’s non-country/blues influences, including gospel and crooners like Dean Martin.


Week Two

Rise to Superstardom with RCA Records

A. Helped by a series of network television appearances in early 1956, Elvis Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” becomes a #1 hit. The rock’n’roll explosion’s already unstoppable, but Presley’s ascension is its biggest final boost.

B. Other huge hit singles,and two hit albums, follow in 1956 to cement his worldwide popularity, including “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Love Me Tender.” His live appearances drive audiences into a frenzy and cause controversy among establishment forces viewing rock’n’roll as a dangerous and subversive force.

C. Elvis enters the movies in late 1956 with Love Me Tender, the first of dozens of films in which he’ll star through the late 1960s, though few of them maximize his musical talents and potential as an actor.

Other themes: Television taming of Elvis when big variety shows won’t show his full writhing image and dress him in conventional wardrobe; Elvis’s increasing musical diversity as he gains more experience in the studios with RCA.


Week Three

More Hits, Movies, and Induction into the Army

A. In 1957, Elvis continues his reign as early rock’s biggest star with hits like “All Shook Up,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Too Much.”

B. He also establishes himself as a box-office attraction with more movies, which are considered about the best of his lengthy and mediocre cinema career, like Jailhouse Rock and (though it’s released in 1958) King Creole.

C. Elvis’s meteoric career is interrupted when he’s drafted into the army in early 1958. Songs that he records before he serves his commitment in Germany keep him at the top of the charts in 1958 and 1959, but many fans feel he never again matches the intensity and creativity of his 1954-57 recordings.

Other themes: Impact of the 1958 death of his mother; the dilution of the most daring elements of his music and image.


This class is not available at this time.  

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