Fundraising Elvis dinner returns this April

Country music legend Ronnie McDowell performs for the crowd. While McDowell is well known for his spot-on impersonation of Elvis’ signing, the country singer performed a variety of songs from a number of genres. He also took time to visit with guests and sign autographs. (Courtesy photo)

Country music legend Ronnie McDowell performs for the crowd. While McDowell is well known for his spot-on impersonation of Elvis’ signing, the country singer performed a variety of songs from a number of genres. He also took time to visit with guests and sign autographs. (Courtesy photo)

Despite his name being in the title, the Elvis Presley Charity Event Memorial Dinner isn’t really about Elvis at all.

Of course, Elvis is all over the thing. Now in its third year, the event is hosted by local Elvis fan club, the Moody Blues, and features scads of Elvis memorabilia for attendees to try to win. Special guests include a variety of people either directly or tangentially related to the rock ‘n roll legend. Country musician Ronnie McDowell, known for his loving tributes to Presley’s music, is returning from last year; Cynthia Pepper, who co-starred with Elvis is “Kissing Cousins,” will be there; and Elvis’ former nurse and friend, Marian Cocke, will return for the third year. This year’s master of ceremonies will be Emmy-nominated producer Tom Brown, credited with producing dozens of television documentaries.

The event is set for Saturday, April 30, inside the Itawamba Agricultural High School commons. The event starts at 6 p.m.

Tickets, available now, are $40, general admission only. Groups who would like to sit together are encouraged to arrive early.

The event includes an elegant dinner, a high-end gift raffle (tickets can be purchased in bundles of 36 for $20), a live auction, a panel featuring the special guests and a concert by McDowell.

According to Lori Holland, head of the Moody Blues and the event’s organizer, ticket sales are already strong, even this early.

“People still love Elvis,” Holland said. “There’s no other entertainer who, 40 years after his death, still has that kind of power.”

The success of the event is, at least in part, due to the talent of the special guests it hosts. Cocke, who attends as regularly as clockwork, is always willing to speak with attendees about the time she spent with Elvis. McDowell, back for his second appearance, brings star power with him. Over his 35-plus year recording career, McDowell has duetted with such legends as Conway Twitty, George Jones and Dolly Parton. Although a talented country musician in his own right, McDowell has become renowned for his ability to sing in Elvis’ style. His autobiography, “Bringing it to You Personally,” recently hit bookshelves. He’ll have copies available the night of the event.

Last year’s audience loved McDowell; bringing him back was an easy decision.

“Ronnie’s a great performer,” Holland said, adding that McDowell had an easy give-and-take with the crowd.

As always, the event is a fundraiser for the Moody Blues Charitable Foundation. Proceeds from this now-annual event help IAHS students in a variety of ways. It could be academic, like helping college-bound students purchase books for a semester or sending a member of a local school group to a national competition, to a cause that’s a bit more personal.

“We have literally purchased groceries for kids who are in that kind of situation,” Holland said, adding that there’s no real definitive cause the group supports, other than IAHS kids who need a little financial help. “Anything that helps a needy student, we take care of.”

Over the past three years, the event has raised more than $24,000. All of that money has gone to help IAHS students.

This year’s event will also feature a special memorial ceremony during which candles will be lit in memory of IAHS students who have died in recent years.

Even among all the grandeur, Holland believes this short moment will represent what the program is really all about. Although the night is superficially about Elvis, at its heart, it’s not really about Elvis at all.

“We are trying to keep our eyes on the ball … what we’re doing this for,” Holland said. “The kids.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com
Twitter: @admarmr

What: Elvis Presley Charity Event Memorial Dinner

Who: Country musician Ronnie McDowell, Elvis’s personal nurse and friend Marion Cocke; Cynthia Pepper, Elvis’ co-star in “Kissing Cousins” and other special guests.

When: Saturday, April 30, 2016

Where: Itawamba Agricultural High School Commons in Fulton

Why: To build the Moody Blues Charitable Foundation, which helps needy students at IAHS and provides a scholarship to a senior student each year.

How: Tickets are available for $40 each. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Lori Holland at Itawamba Agricultural High School by calling 862-3104 or emailing her at lholland@itawamba.k12.ms.us

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 18 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.

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