Gotta Find My Baby!

September 27, 2022

September 27, 1957: The Last Time in Tupelo

Elvis, Gladys, Vernon, Parker and Fair president J. M. Savery backstage; Tupelo, September 27, 1957

It's not news that Elvis adopted Memphis as his home from an early age, but it's also known that Tupelo never really left his thoughts. However, after migrating to Tennessee in 1948, the singer never had the time or money to spare to visit his hometown. His only stint there after that was on August 1, 1955, when his worldwide fame had not yet been established and he was just one of the attractions at the All-Star Jamboree.

His official return to Tupelo as a world-famous star would not take place until September 26, 1956, when he gave two of the most iconic performances of his early career. For the event, the city hosted up to 50,000 people at the famous Mississippi-Alabama Fair & Dairy Show. The concerts were officially filmed by 20th Century Fox and the audience simply appeared to be in a state of total hysteria. Tupelo was never the same after that.

Before leaving for Memphis, the King of Rock visited the city's mayor and said he'd seen his old home and the 15 acres that were for sale around it. In an act of generosity, he returned the $12,000 he was paid for the performances to the City Hall in exchange for building a recreation center for East Tupelo's children and teens on those 15 acres.

His motivation was in his childhood, in the fact that he and all the young people in that region had to go to the richer side of town for fun and often called "white trash".

Elvis made it clear that he would return the following year for a benefit concert to raise funds for the work.

1957 poster announcing Elvis' concert

Exactly one year and one day after the thunderous spectacle of 1956, Tupelo welcomed Elvis again. This time, the benefit concert was smaller than the previous year and the audience was estimated at 12 thousand people from the city and surroundings. The concert was solely intended to raise funds for the "Elvis Presley Youth Recreation Center", the recreation complex for poor East Tupelo children that the singer had commissioned from the City Hall a year earlier.

There was just as much excitement in town about the appearance as there had been the year before, and in light of his generous donation to the youth center, an editorial in the town's leading newspaper wove a warning note to the community to "let the welcome to Elvis be truly warm."

J. M. Savery, president of the Mississippi-Alabama Fair, predicted an audience of at least 10,000, with an expectation of over 12,000. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had notified Savery that they intended to send a crew to film the show. Colonel Parker planned to arrange a press conference.

At this point Elvis was dating Anita Wood and the press was more interested in that than the recent breakup of the singer's original band. Even when the news broke weeks earlier, it had already been overshadowed by his recent return to Hollywood. According to Peter Guralnick, the King of Rock arrived in Tupelo with Anita Wood and her parents, along with Cliff Wood, George Klein, Lamar Fike, Alan Fortas and Louis Harris.

Elvis, Gladys, Anita Wood and George Klein backstage; Tupelo, September 27, 1957

After a big advanced sale, the stands were packed; the band - with Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland of Nashville on guitar and Chuck Wiginton, a friend of D.J. Fontana  from Dallas on bass sounded good; The Colonel made a point of putting up a big banner announcing that "Jailhouse Rock" was coming; and Elvis drove the crowd and himself into the usual frenzy. But somehow it wasn't the same.

Hank Garland was quite a guitar player, but you could tell the difference on "Don't Be Cruel"; Garland could really play, but he didn't do that intro the way Scotty did. However, this was just the first of Hank's many affiliations with Elvis. Chuck Wiginton was a bass player and an accomplished bassist, a permanent member of the Louisiana Hayride house instrumentalist roster. But the same lack of rhythm occurred to him.

Elvis and Hank Garland on stage in Tupelo

At 8:15 pm, shortly after a short performance by The Jordanaires, the singer took the stage of the Mississippi-Alabama Fair & Dairy Show to the delight of the audience. That day's show didn't differ much from what the King of Rock usually did at the time, apart from the fact that it would be a solo concert (Elvis still made few solo appearances and remained on tours with various names in music) and he would receive 60% of the proceeds, and that Bill Black and Scotty Moore would not be present due to a salary dispute with the Colonel, which ended up separating them from Elvis on September 2, when the singer had performed for the last time before this one.

Although there is no concrete information on the tracklist for this performance, it can almost certainly be estimated that it was as follows:

Heartbreak Hotel
I Got a Woman
When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again
Mean Woman Blues
Shake Rattle and Roll
Hound Dog

There is still the suspicion of the rendition of one or another standard at the time, such as:

Jailhouse Rock
Treat Me Nice
Don't Be Cruel
I Want You, I Need You, I Love You
Blueberry Hill
Blue Suede Shoes
That's All Right
Too Much
Ready Teddy
Tutti Frutti
All Shook Up
Teddy Bear
I Was the One
Fools Hall of Fame
Love Me
Tutti Frutti
Tryin' to Get to You
Old Shep
I'm Counting On You
Loving You
I Love You Because
Rip it Up

Whatever songs were present, September 27, 1957 would mark the last time Elvis would return to Tupelo in his life.

Elvis and his group on stage with Parker knealed in front of it; Tupelo, September 27, 1957

The week after the show, conversations between Elvis, Scotty, Bill and Parker led to arrangements that would ensure that the original quartet would be reunited at the next performance on October 26. Everyone had to swallow a little bit of pride, but what mattered was that The Blue Moon Boys were back and there were no hard feelings.


Counting the $12,000 from 1956, Elvis would donate a total of $20,000 towards the construction of the youth recreation center. The property, including the place and house of his birth, originally owned by Orville Bean, Vernon's employer, was sold to the city by one of his daughters for that purpose. She happened to be Oleta Grimes, Elvis' fifth-grade teacher.

Initially, the land was cleared of all buildings and houses except the birthplace. City Hall and J.M. Savery created great advertisements about the project, but, over the months, what was noticed was that the work was moving too slowly for the amount invested.

In 1961 Elvis decided to call and put pressure on the mayor of Tupelo, threatening to withdraw his annual donations if the complex was not finished quickly.

Eventually, the city built an indoor recreation hall, baseball field, swimming pool, and a playground. In 1971, Oleta and the East Tupelo Garden Club decided to restore the house, along with the guidance of Elvis' father, and open it up to tourism.

J. M. Savery (L), Mayor James Ballard (C) and alderman Rymond Merchant opening the works of the complex; Tupelo, 1957

Since then, several modifications have been made over the decades. In 1990, the on-site swimming pool was filled in to make way for new buildings and attractions. The place was slowly remodeled and downsized until only Elvis' parents' house remained and a 5-acre plot of land that is part of the attractions of the place.


The last fairs were held there in the early 1980s and in the 1990s the stage was demolished. In 2000, the stands were also demolished. The new town hall was built on approximately the same site in 2003 and the former fairgrounds are now part of what is called the Fairpark District. That same year, Scotty Moore and D.J. returned again to the Fairgrounds with Ronnie McDowall and Sonny Burgess and The Pacers as part of the 6th Annual Elvis Presley Festival.

In August 2012, a statue of Elvis was unveiled in Fairpark. It was the result of a joint effort by the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Tupelo Elvis Presley Fan Club. It is a representation of the iconic photo taken on September 26, 1956 by Roger Marshutz, erected at nearly the original height of the stage.

Inauguration of the Elvis statue in Fairpark, Tupelo; August 9, 2012


With information and
Photos: Google
Structuring: Elvis Presley Index |
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