Gotta Find My Baby!

September 26, 2022

September 26, 1956: Elvis Conquers Tupelo

Elvis on stage during the 2:30 pm concert in Tupelo, Mississippi, September 26, 1956

Unsurprisingly, Elvis adopted Memphis, Tennessee as his home from an early age. First, when the Presley and Smith families left sleepy Tupelo, Mississippi, in search of jobs and better opportunities for life in a bigger city, 1948 Memphis simply enchanted the 13-year-old with all its crowded sidewalks, the busy streets and especially the strongholds where blacks gathered to laugh and sing, in addition to the churches.

Then, when he was already known as "the King of Rock", the purchase of Graceland, in 1957, was the perfect reason for him to make Memphis his place of residence and rest, even receiving the key to the city and consecrating it, for commercial purposes, his "hometown".

However, according to friends and family, Tupelo never really left his thoughts. Elvis had the city at the center of his heart and often remembered what he had lived there, the poverty, the mishaps of life, the years he spent helping his parents in any way he could. However, since August 1, 1955, when his worldwide fame had not yet been established and he was just one of the attractions of the All-Star Jamboree, the singer had not visited his hometown.

A gap had to be found between the recording sessions and the filming of "Love Me Tender" so that he could, now as the show's solo star, perform for his countrymen. This moment was strategically set for September 26, 1956, the day after the opening of the largest cattle and dairy products fair in the region, which was celebrating its 49th edition.

1956 poster announcing Elvis' concerts in Tupelo

Elvis would perform at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair & Dairy Show, where on October 3, 1945 he won third place for his performance of "Old Shep" and the 1955 concert, but now with one big difference: Tupelo, a small town with just 8,000 inhabitants, suddenly found itself crammed with up to 50,000 people on that sunny Wednesday, all there to see a single artist.

The Colonel, Elvis and his girlfriend Barbara Hearn, his parents, actor and friend Nick Adams and the press couldn't believe that that sea of ​​people came from all over the country just to see the singer.

A series of changes in the city, in the fair's procedures and in the Children's Day Parade were made on the occasion. For the parade that took place on the morning of the 26th, which theme of the year was "Elvis Presley Returns", prizes of up to 100 dollars were offered for the most elaborate floats and all exhibitions had to have an Elvis song as the title; participating high school bands were also invited to add the singer's hits to their repertoire on the parade.

An attempt was made to get Elvis to attend the event, but the Colonel declined, citing that "to present Presley in an open car in the midst of thousands of people would be to incite trouble."

In the streets, gigantic banners read "Tupelo Welcomes Elvis" and the National Guard made ostensible patrols to avoid mishaps. It was forbidden to park on the main roads and make agglomerations of people. Tupelo's entire police force had been called in to prevent robberies and thefts, as well as curb immoral conduct and close venues selling shows that could be lewd.

As for the press, there were hundreds of professionals from all over the world: Fox wanted to film the concerts; entourages came from England and Japan; hundreds of newspapers from all regions of the country sent their best journalists to cover the event and their tents were strategically set up to prevent the crowd from running after Elvis after he left the shows.

It was showtime and the audience was electrified. Everyone had paid $1.50 a ticket, double what they normally charged, to see their idol. The cries of "we want Elvis!" of some came allied with the petrified silence of others, creating a chaotic atmosphere.

Nick Adams recalled in his The Rebel and the King book what he experienced at that moment: "When Elvis came up on that stage I thought someone had just dropped an Atomic Bomb. They cheered so loud I thought I was going to lose an eardrum."

Away from the stage, Vernon and Gladys watched with apprehension, fearing that the performance could end like so many others where wild fans climbed the platform and ripped their son's clothes. Parker, of course, had a gigantic smile plastered on his face.

When starting his act with "Heartbreak Hotel", wearing navy blue pants, navy blue velvet shirt and white shoes, it was almost impossible to hear the band and even some of Elvis' vocals due to the euphoric screams of the fans. In the continuation with "Long Tall Sally", the audience simply exploded in hysterical ecstasy as the King of Rock began dancing on stage during Scotty Moore's guitar solo.

After an interval of less than a minute, the governor of Mississippi took the stage to present Elvis with a document that established September 26 as "Elvis Presley Day" in the city. Following the ceremony, the mayor of Tupelo would present him with the City Key, a stylized metal guitar with a key-shaped neck and the inscription "EP, Welcome Home - Tupelo, Miss." engraved.

Elvis shows Tupelo's City Key to fans and press

Back to the show, "I Was the One", the B-side of the single "Heartbreak Hotel", again sends the audience into a frenzy. "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You", "I Got a Woman", "Don't Be Cruel", "Ready Teddy" and "Love Me Tender" would continue to have fans alternating moments of calm euphoria with others of total hysteria.

Judy Hopper, a 14-year-old fan, walked past 50 police officers and took the stage to hug her sobbing idol during "Don't Be Cruel." Despite being carried off the platform and under strict police surveillance after the incident, she was still able to speak to Elvis and his parents at the end of the performance. Then hundreds started trying to do the same and Elvis had to dodge; when he got too close to one of the edges of the stage, some fans ripped buttons on his shirt.

Chaos ensued, although Elvis managed to control the fans' moods well, until "Hound Dog" made the bases of the stage shake with the crowd's jostling, something to which the singer had already called attention at the request of the organizers.

While Elvis left the stage for a few hours of rest until the next show, WELO radio did a short interview with Vernon and Gladys. When asked which of their son's songs they liked best, Vernon cites "That's All Right" and "Hound Dog"; for Gladys, they were "Baby Let's Play House" and "Don't Be Cruel".

At 7:30 pm that same day, Elvis would return to the stage for his second and final performance in town that year wearing black pants, a red velvet shirt, and white shoes.

Shortly before, he would give an interview to WELO radio and talk about the unexpected reception: "I didn’t expect coming home to be such a big deal. Why, people were lined up on the highways when I came into town."

Thousands of fans prevented the singer from visiting the city, but he was able to see old friends backstage.

Asked about his childhood in Tupelo, the singer replied: "Why, I used to sneak into this fair. I got carried out once or twice, too. Hope I get escorted out today, too. Last time I was here, I didn't have a nickel to get in."

The tracklist was pretty much the same as in the afternoon, with the addition of "Blue Suede Shoes", which the singer introduced as "a song that's getting old", and "Baby Let's Play House", this one especially for Gladys.

Elvis during his 7:30 pm concert

But if Elvis had to call the audience's attention once in a while for safety reasons on the afternoon show, at night things would be much more chaotic. Another 50 National Guard officers had to be sent to Tupelo for the performance. The singer had to stop the concert three times to ask fans to stop pushing each other because people were seriously hurting themselves and for anyone standing on the edge of the stage to sit down so the audience further back could also see him. "I can’t sing with this going on," he exclaimed when the police couldn't stop fans tearing his clothes.

In fact, the large number of emergency calls after the show left no doubt: "Hurricane Elvis" had passed through Tupelo. And this true phenomenon of nature was reported across the US in reports that extolled the feat of gathering 20 to 50 thousand fans in one place, depending on the source.

Edith Haynie, of The Tupelo Journal wrote on September 27, 1956:

For twenty thousand screaming fans it was Heartbreak Hotel all over again Wednesday, as Elvis Presley came home to the fair. And this time be didn't have to climb a fence to get in.

National Guardsmen called out for the night performance had their hands full of hysterical teenage girls who fought the cordon of men thrown around the stage.

Dozens scratched, pulled hair and shoved for a desperate chance . "It's all great," said Elvis. "These people are really great, and all that."

After clearing welcome formalities for the local boy who made good, gyrating Elvis and his guitar launched into his matinee performance before a roaring mob of some 5,000. More than 40 highway patrolmen and city police circled the five-foot stage, built to keep eager fans at a safe distance. "Elvis," the girls shrieked, teasing their hair and sobbing hysterically. "Please, Elvis."

Footlights were torn from their sockets as girls tried desperately to touch their idol. Several fans fainted and were nearly trampled in the melee.

Presley picked UP $5,000 plus a 60 percent gate guarantee for his two performances. A long parade in his honor went on without him Wednesday morning. The risk was too great, his manager said.

In another newspaper of the same day, the headline read:

Tupelo, Miss.—(INS)— Elvis Presley rock-‘n’-rolled his hometown of Tupelo. Miss. into a frenzy—the likes of which has not been seen in the lazy Southern village since Civil War days.

Elvis whirled into the city Wednesday in a new white limousine, and threw 50,000 people attending the big Mississippi-Alabama Fair into panic.

He missed the big parade which featured floats made up along a "rock-’n‘-roll" theme in his honor. But he did not disappoint the 12,000 screaming, squirming fans who turned out for his two performances -- for which he picked up a tidy $5000 plus 60 per cent of the gate.

About 30 policemen were needed to hold off a mob of teen-agers who tried to get near their singing idol as he swivel-hipped his way around the five foot stage bellowing his "Hound Dog" hit. Even with this protection, though, Elvis lost the buttons of his blue velvet shirt when he ventured too near the edge of the stage.

At one point, a wave of youngsters broke through the police cordon and tried to scale the platform, forcing newsmen and photographers to scramble onto the stage for safety.

The 21-year-old sensation was presented citations from Mississippi Gov. James P. Coleman and Tupelo Mayor James Ballard.

Elvis lived in Tupelo until he finished the eighth grade and began his rise to fame there plucking the guitar and singing on school programs.

His family then moved to Memphis, Tenn., where they still reside.

After the performances, Elvis had pocketed $12,000 - 60% of his concert ticket sales.

Before leaving for Memphis, the King of Rock visited the mayor and said he had seen his old home and the 15 acres that were for sale around it. In an act of generosity, he returned his earnings to the city in exchange for building a recreation center for the children and teens of East Tupelo 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 to swim, watch movies or play in a park, places where they were frowned upon by people and often called " white trash".

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

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