There have been 45 presidents of the US since King George was sent packing. The US, though, has had three Kings, who have left a lasting legacy. This year is the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s assassination. We followed in his footsteps, from Memphis where he made his Mountaintop speech and was assassinated to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson and the opening of a new chapter in the Civil Rights story. We looked at BB King, Blues and Beale Street, before finishing off this week in Graceland with the King.
We’d hear Elvis before we’d ever see him, his jewellery clinking as he came down the stairs.Lisa Marie Presley
We hear him stilll at the foot of his stairs, his private rooms are cordoned off from visitors.. Elvis has not left the building and never will.
Marc Cohn famously followed his ghost up from Union Avenue while Paul Simon too had reason to believe that we all would be received in Graceland.
It’s called good old-fashioned Southern hospitality and Elvis was always a good ol’ fashioned Southern boy.
We start the day the way he would, at The Arcade Diner in Downtown Memphis with his favourite banana and peanut sandwich – Elvis would come in in and sit in the same booth, his fellow Memphis would pretty much leave him alone., other than asking him how Priscilla, Lisa Marie and his father were.
It’s the Southern Way, y’all.
Priscilla, Lisa Marie and her children, Riley, Benjamin, Harper and Finley are all known to staff at Graceland, the older workers even remembering Elvis himself.
A million things assault your senses as you walk through Graceland, not to mention the bold 70s decor in the TV room, the Jungle room or the Games room.
The most poignant room of all is the Racquetball room where Elvis spent his final hours, playing with his cousin Billy Smith before sit-in down at the piano and singing Unchained Melody and Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain which play in a spool in the room.
Elvis is buried outside in the Meditation Garden alongside his mother, father and grandmother Minnie Mae while there is a memorial headstone to his twin brother Jessie Garon who had died stillborn shortly before Elvis announced himself to the world.
Despite the crowds milling through on this crisp, wintry morning it feels still and peaceful out here where Elvis would have spun around on his buggy with his friends (he bought Lisa Marie one for an early birthday), rode his horses, or swam in the pool, now long since covered over.
As Elvis himself reveals in many of the audio or visual displays the best times in his life were spent in this house with his family and friends.
Elvis had given his mum Gladys and dad Vernon $100,000 ($2million) in today’s money) in 1957 to buy them all a house.
When Gladys found socialite Ruth Moore’s 14-acre Colonial revival Graceland on the border of their native Mississippi, we can only imagine that Elvis said: ‘That’s all right, Mamma.’
Legend has it that Elvis picked this song to audition for Sam Phillips in Sun Studio because it was his beloved Mamma’s birthday.
What is on record is, well, the record they cut, and that Elvis was on the brink of being discarded for a second time by Sam when the record studio boss heard him messing around between auditions and asked him to sing it again.
Elvis had told sam that he could sing all kinds.
The rest is rock’n’roll history and Sun Studio will give you a guided tour and invite you to the very spot (I believe it) where the King would sing, where you’re encouraged to take up your best Elvis stance, grab the mic stand nd wiggle that pelvis.
For the rest of rock’n’roll history, visit the excellent Smithsonian Rock and Soul Museum in Memphis where you can grace the journey of Mississippi Delta music from the type of shotgun shack where Elvis was reared and the radio was king and through Ragtime, Blues, Country and Gospel to today’s Rock and Soul.
No wonder Elvis would do all kinds because Memphis and Mississippi did, and does, all kinds.
It is poignant that the week we visit the Stax Museum of American Soul is the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the soul greats, Otis Redding.
It was Otis, along with Rufus and Carla Thomas, Booker T and the M.G.s and the Black Moses himself Isaac Hayes (the only man who could give Elvis a run for his money in statement clothes and flash cars) who put the soul into Memphis soul.
Their legacy is there for all to see and hear in the Soulsville campus where you can also visit the charter school, the Stax Music Academy which educates and develops Memphis’s next generation of soul singers and sends them to out to tour our shores.
They have already been to the UK and are set to tour Europe again this year… catch them if you can – you won’t be disappointed.
And in a flash, our Stax tour is over, or in a click of the fingers, the Stax logo, and we are on the road again.
Along the Blues Trail and Highway 61 to the exact spot where rock’n’roll was born in Mississippi where Rocket 88 was imagined by Jackie Brenston in 1951 before it was laid down in Sun Studio with a certain Ike Turner on piano.
It is a fleeting glimpse of a shooting star, Brenston, who just as quickly burned out.
The musical stars of yesteryear and today are honoured at the Grammy Museum, Cleveland, Mississippi, an afternoon you’ll never forget where you’ll get to take dance lessons from a hologram NeYo, perhaps even meet Muddy Waters’s great-granddaughter NaCherrie, lay down your own track, sing Boom, Boom, Boom with John Lee Hooker, and learn and share in the success stories of all the major stars.
The biggest star of them all, of course, is Elvis, and none of the stars here would be up in lights if it wasn’t for him.
Thoughts drift back to Graceland where among the displays of jumpsuits, cars, two aeroplanes ‘Lisa Marie’ and ‘Hound Dog’, buggies and bling are tributes from all the greats of music to Elvis Aaron Presley in their own words.
None are omitted.
And they all amount to the same declaration.
Long live the King.
And read the first two parts of The Three Kings series on Dr Martin Luther King and B.B. King here.
How to get there: I flew with United Airlines, Dublin to Newark, New Jersey and then onto Memphis, Tennessee, returning through Jackson, Mississippi to Houston, Texas, then onto Newark and then Dublin.
Where to stay/how to travel: Car hire. Three nights, Memphis – Peabody Hotel; one night Cleveland – Hampton Inn; two nights, Natchez – the Burns B&B; two nights Jackson – The Westin Hotel. Costs may vary. Lead-in cost per person £1,665 (€1,865)