Few artists have left a legacy as monumental as Elvis Presley. As an artist, he managed to bridge the gap between country music and rock and roll like no one before. Although he’s known as the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis’ musical roots stem from the traditional country that he grew up listening to as a child.
Presley’s first public performance was at the 1945 Mississippi-Alabama Fair, where he performed Red Foley’s country song “Old Shep,” clad in cowboy attire. This seemingly small moment would mark the start of a career filled with incredible accomplishments within the music industry.
Everything changed in 1954, when Presley met Sam Phillips while recording at Sun Records in Memphis. The two tracked a single which featured the songs “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” which helped him gain traction on the radio.
Soon after, Presley was booked to play a year’s worth of Saturday-night performances on the popular radio program Louisiana Hayride. The exposure from these performances, along with touring and a constant stream of solid singles landed him a recording contract with RCA Records. He quickly earned number one hits with “Heartbreak Hotel“, “Don’t Be Cruel”, and “Hound Dog”.
The release of his self-titled debut album, along with a stream of notable television appearances, skyrocketed him to the top of the charts and made him a pop culture sensation. At the close of the 1950s, Presley racked up more number one hits, including “Stuck on You”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, and “It’s Now or Never.”
In the 1960s, Presley became focused on his film career and began recording softer, more pop-influenced tracks. Over the years, the quality of his output began to lessen and many believed that his career was all but over.
Presley managed to bring his career back to life in the 1970s by revisiting the sound that originally made him famous. By mixing rock and roll with his beloved classic country influences, he once again crafted a sound that won over listeners across the globe.
The release of Elvis Country, a concept record that focused on country standards, brought acclaim from critics and fans alike. From Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” to Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away”, Presley brought his trademark soulful sound back to the forefront.
One of the world’s greatest voices was silenced on Aug. 16, 1977, when Presley died of a heart attack at the age of 42. Although his last few years were filled with personal struggle, Presley left behind an immense catalog of music that will influence artists for decades to come.