EDITORIAL: The Presley heritage

This week’s celebration of Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday anniversary more sharply than usual shines a spotlight on Tupelo’s native son whose musical and entertainment celebrity make him the most famous Mississippian.
Presley, who died unexpectedly in 1977, was born in Jan. 8, 1935, and lived in Tupelo until age 13, when his family moved to Memphis.
He arguably is one of the few entertainers whose popularity and recognition have grown and spread after death, thanks in part to technology that makes access to his image and music more widely and less expensively available to almost every place in the world.
The birthday week’s events all are open to public participation, although some require ticket purchases, and another famous Mississippi entertainer, Marty Stuart, will make appearances and perform to close out the celebration.
Presley’s economic impact has been enormous – billions of dollars based on record sales alone. Most calculations place sales of his recordings at more than 1 billion.
The Wall Street Journal, 54 years ago, noted Presley’s impact on the youth culture, the same year, 1956, that he made one of his fairgrounds appearances in Tupelo.
Historian Ian Brailsford (University of Auckland, New Zealand) in 2006 commented, “The phenomenal success of Elvis Presley in 1956 convinced many doubters of the financial opportunities existing in the youth market.”
That phenomenon changed product development, marketing and mass selling, and it is fully in the spirit of Presley’s personal success for Tupelo, as his birthplace, to market Elvis tourism as one of the city’s economic strengths and attractions.
This year’s birthday week emphases include the unveiling of a new guitar motif that will be seen across downtown where, on the site of the existing City Hall, Presley performed at the fairgrounds stadium.
The outdoor concert series initiated in 2009 on the lawn of City Hall is a richly symbolic continuation of Tupelo’s entertainment heritage, as has been the Elvis Presley Festival since its founding in 1999.
Trading on the fame of a native son, even one as famous as Presley, depends on constant innovation and tweaking of the product.
The fans buying into the Presley legend and allure in 2010 may not be attracted to the music for the same reasons as in 1955 or 1956. The break from the past Presley represented is no longer revolutionary, but it maintains a wide appeal.
Tupelo’s Presley connection isn’t Graceland. It’s even more important: It’s the beginning, the starting point, the basic influences, and his kinfolks are here as in no other place.
Tupelo’s claim on Presley is unique, and maintaining that will sustain the aura.

NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio