By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Elvis tribute artist Shawn Klush and the Tupelo Unity Choir brought down the house Sunday with “How Great Thou Art” to close 2013’s Tupelo Elvis Festival.
Klush, of Pennsylvania, is the first winner of the Ultimate Elvis competition in Memphis and a Tupelo crowd favorite.
His performance wrapping up the “Ultimate Gospel for the Soul” brunch and concert drew repeated applause, along with songs by The Blackwood Quartet and The Landmarks.
Earlier in the day, this year’s ETA Tupelo winner, Jay Dupuis of New Orleans, said he was excited to win Elvis’ hometown contest after three tries.
“The fans ‘get it’ here – they understand what Elvis is all about,” he noted.
Dupuis goes on the Ultimate competition in Memphis in August carrying a strong legacy. Three of the past six Ultimate winners won Tupelo’s prize.
First-timer Brenda Tourere of Baton Rouge was especially excited for Dupuis, whom she says she’s known for a few years, along with two other ETA competitors from the Louisiana capital.
“I’m almost related to Jay,” she admitted. “His ex-girlfriend was my neighbor’s ex-daughter-in-law’s sister.”
Sunday’s event began with an outdoor brunch under a large white tent adjacent to the Lyric Theatre, home of the tribute artist competition.
As the meal ended, Tupelo Unity Choir led the participants into the theater singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Rhonda Chrestman of Tupelo was enjoying the day as a new part of her Elvis adventure.
“I’ve never heard the gospel program and I’m excited to hear the Unity Choir,” she said over tomato grits and fried chicken with her husband, Joe, and her mother, Carolyn Taylor, of Red Bay, Ala.
Both women said they’d be back for more Elvis festivals held annually in June.
Klush, whom the Blackwoods back up on gospel like The Jordanaires backed up Elvis, bears a striking resemblance to The King. He’s also got the voice.
His renditions of “This Time, You Gave Me A Mountain” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” brought the audience to its feet.
He wore a tan, loose, vintage-style suit, no tie and an open-neck white long-sleeve dress shirt. His black hair moved easily as he gestured and sang well-known tunes like “Reach Out to Jesus,” “Where Do I Go But to The Lord,” and “He Touched Me.”
Also on the stage were The EAS Band and Joe Moscheo of The Imperials gospel group, which performed many times with Elvis.
The 2 1/2-hour program ended with Klush’s stirring “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art,” backed up by the Tupelo Unity Choir and the others.
Afterward, fans streamed into the theater lobby to buy CDs of the various artists and to get their autographs.