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Elvis Presley

Presley, Elvis (Elvis Aaron Presley), 1935–77, American popular singer, b. Tupelo, Miss. Exposed to gospel music from childhood, Presley began playing guitar before his adolescence. He first recorded in 1953, became a national sensation by 1956, and dominated rock music until 1963. Presley sang successfully in three popular idioms: country and western, rock 'n' roll, and rhythm and blues. Although he had a pleasant baritone voice and a sincere delivery, it was his pelvic gyrations, considered wildly sexual by an entire generation of teenagers and their appalled parents, which skyrocketed Presley to fame. Among his most successful songs were "Heartbreak Hotel,""Love Me Tender,""Hound Dog," and "Don't Be Cruel." His success spawned a spate of B movies and from 1956 to 1972 he appeared in 33 motion pictures including Love Me Tender (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957), and Follow That Dream (1962). Presley remained a popular and influential performer through the 1960s and 70s. His death was attributed largely to substance abuse. Since his death, popular interest in Presley has remained high; his home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tenn., has been turned into a highly successful tourist attraction and pop culture shrine.

See account by his former wife, Priscilla, Elvis and Me (with S. Harmon, 1986); J. Hopkins, Elvis: The Final Years (1986), L. Cotten, Elvis Catalog (1987), R. Gibson and S. Shaw, Elvis (1987); biography by P. Guralnick (2 vol., 1994, 1998).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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