King of the Tribute Artists

MEMPHIS – The king of Elvis Presley tribute artists went through Tupelo to win his crown.
Late Thursday night, Bill Cherry claimed the title of Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist of 2009. He faced 19 other competitors who had earned their way to Memphis by winning regional competitions around the country.
Cherry, a 44-year-old from Collinsville, Ill., competed at the 2009 Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival in June. The Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association sponsored him during the Memphis competition.
“By winning in Tupelo and having all the support from everyone,” he said during a phone interview from Memphis, “it really gave me confidence and relaxed me for the competition.”
Cherry gave solid performances of “He Gave Me a Mountain,” “My Way” and “Suspicious Minds,” said Debbie Brangenberg, Main Street director.
“They called No. 3, and they called No. 2,” Brangenberg said, “and I thought, We’ve got it. We’ve got it. Bill was No. 1.”
Caught in the act
Cherry’s victory can be traced back more than 35 years, when he used to listen to Elvis Presley records in his bedroom. He sang and mimicked the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s moves.
“It was kind of embarrassing, I guess,” he said. “My parents caught me striking a pose in my room.”
Once his fascination with Elvis became common family knowledge, the show moved to the living room.
“We’d play the live albums and I’d go through the whole thing,” he said. “We’d turn the lights down and my parents had a flashlight. That flashlight was my spotlight. That’s how it all started.”
‘Beautiful’ reminder
He’s been channeling Tupelo’s favorite son in public since 1989, but didn’t visit Elvis’ hometown until the competition in June.
In Tupelo, he won a miniature version of the “Elvis at 13” statue located at the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum.
“I saw it when I walked into the Lyric Theatre. I thought it was super cool, then I realized it was the trophy,” he said. “It’s sitting in my living room on the mantle. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
In Memphis, he won a belt made by an artisan who made belts for Elvis. He also won $20,000.
“I’m a welder by trade. The steel industry is down with the economy. Things are slow,” he said. “Maybe I won’t have to go back to that.”
Brangenberg said Cherry’s expected to perform in Tupelo in January for the 75th anniversary celebration of Elvis’ birth. Other events are in the works.
“I was fortunate enough to achieve the Tupelo win and the Memphis win. That’s the two major stars in the crown,” Cherry said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. As an Elvis tribute artist, this is the highest award you can get. I’m so thankful for the support of everyone from Tupelo, Memphis and back home.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or

NOTE: Today is the 32nd anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. Look for other stories on the King on Today’s 3Qs are answered by Dick Guyton of the Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum. And the fictional serial “A ‘Hunka, Hunka’ Trouble will be posted online after 9 a.m. Monday. Read it today in the NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio