As the world gears up to mark yet another milestone in the post-Elvis Presley era this Friday — Jan. 8 marks the 75th anniversary of his modest birth in Tupelo, Miss. — a new wave of Presley projects is about to roll out, perpetuating the myth and the legend among music lovers again.
“Elvis does the work,” says Elvis Presley Enterprises director of publicity Kevin Kern, explaining the simple appeal of Presley after almost 33 years after his death. “All generations and all kinds of people respond to the power of his work. You just have to look to at Graceland to see that Elvis continues to be relevant. We draw more than 600,000 people annually. … And out of that 600,000 about 40 percent are 35 and under. That just goes to show that Elvis is timeless, and Elvis will always be around.”
In his hometown, the diamond anniversary of Elvis’s birth will be celebrated with the usual hoopla with the hub of activity being Graceland. Friday morning, Presley’s ex-wife, Priscilla, and daughter, Lisa Marie, will kick off the weekend of festivities, including book signings and a symphony pops concert, with a 9:30 a.m. ceremony on the mansion’s north lawn.
Outside of Memphis, however, the observances will go on all year and span nearly the entire globe. A smattering of the Presley-related events includes:
In February, the live show “Elvis Presley In Concert,” featuring members of Elvis’ backing groups performing to Presley performance footage, will begin a 14-city European tour.
Closer to home, Elvis Presley Enterprises and On Stage Entertainment are introducing “The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists Tour,’ which will start its 26-city tour Jan. 15th.
And in November, Carnival Cruise Lines brings back its Elvis Cruise from Jacksonville, Fla., to Nassau.
Even Elvis’ well-trod music catalog, the crux of his legacy, gets a couple of new looks this year: The RCA/Legacy four-disc box set Elvis 75 — Good Rockin’ Tonight presents itself as a career-spanning Presley primer with 100 tracks (including his very first recording, “My Happiness,” cut as a birthday present for his mother) touching on every major facet of his career.
For the hardcore fan, however, there’s Elvis: The Complete Masters, a $489 collection from the Franklin Mint that contains all 711 recordings Presley released in his lifetime.
But perhaps the most high-profile Presley projects are very different looks at the king, one static — a photo exhibit that captures in stark black and white the raw appeal of a young Presley — the other kinetic — a vibrant and splashy show that represents the return of 'The King" to Las Vegas.
On Feb. 19 at Las Vegas’ Aria Resort & Casino, the cutting-edge circus arts group Cirque du Soleil, which three years ago radically re-imagined the music of the Beatles for a new millennium with the show “Love,” will give Presley a similar treatment with opening of “Viva Elvis,” an “abstract biography” of the singer.
And on Friday, the one-year-old Grammy Museum in Los Angeles will present the debut of “Elvis at 21,” a display of Alfred Wertheimer’s celebrated photographs of Presley from 1956. Developed in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and Washington, D.C.’s Govinda Gallery, the exhibit features 56 Wertheimer photos taken when Presley was on the cusp of becoming a superstar.
“These photographs and this exhibit will take us back and re-introduce Elvis to people who already know him and introduce him to young people who have just seen Elvis as a caricature,” says Grammy Museum executive director and noted music scholar Robert Santelli.
The exhibit will run at the Grammy Museum through March 28 before going on tour as part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Traveling Exhibition Service. No Memphis stop is scheduled, though the Clinton Presidential Library will host it in 2011.
“It’s imperative that we keep the history of Elvis Presley and the catalog of his music current and available to new generations of people,” says Santelli, who will also be leading an Elvis field trip in the region in March for Grammy Museum members. “It’s really difficult to understand America in the 1950s without coming to grips with Elvis somehow, some way. He helped define us.”