Despite frigid temperatures, people from all over the world flocked to Graceland on Wednesday morning for an outdoor party, celebrating what would have been Elvis Presley’s 79th birthday.
Roughly 200 fans joined a contingent of celebrity guests and city officials to help kick off birthday week festivities on the front lawn of Elvis’ famed Whitehaven home.
The event included a joint proclamation by the city and county declaring it “Elvis Presley Day,” the unveiling of a multitiered Elvis-themed cake and a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”.
The program, presented by Elvis Presley Enterprises and streamed live online, marked the start of several days of activities in and around Graceland — including concerts, symposiums and screenings — marking Presley’s birthday.
Sixteen year-old Canadian YouTube sensation David Thibault, whose video rendition of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” has racked up over eight million views, was the featured attraction. He was joined by “Today” show reporter and former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager, who was in town to do a story on Thibault (the “Today” piece is slated to air on Friday). Together they led the assembled masses in singing “Happy Birthday” before joining other dignitaries — including veteran DJ and television personality Wink Martindale and Sun Records scion Knox Phillips — in cutting a specially decorated six-foot high cake.
The event also helped kick off the Memphis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau-branded 60th anniversary celebration of the “birth” of rock and roll for 2014. The date is affixed to Presley’s July 1954 recording of “That’s Alright Mama.”
Knox Phillips, son of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, recalled his father bringing home the original acetate of the song. Watching the record spin, he said the moment helped him find “the power of music and especially the power of Elvis which transcends all things in my mind.”
Martindale, who was working at radio station WHBQ the evening that fellow DJ Dewey Phillips premiered the song on the air, remembered the fevered reaction the song elicited upon its first play. “[He] changed music that night,” said Martindale of Elvis.
Their remarks were followed by appearances by city of Memphis Mayor AC Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. Their joint declaration of Jan. 8 as Elvis Presley Day has become an annual tradition, marking the “life and work” of the Bluff City’s most recognizable citizen.
“No matter how far his career took him, or how high his fame carried him, Elvis remained steadfastly devoted to Memphis, the city that he loved, the city that inspired him and the city he called home,” noted Luttrell as part of the decree.
Wharton closed the ceremonies, speaking to Presley’s continued relevance as an artist, cultural icon, economic force and point of civic pride.
Paraphrasing the lyrics of an old Waylon Jennings song, Wharton noted that “Once you cross that Mississippi River and touch down in Memphis, Elvis is still the king.”
Concluding with a poetic flourish, Wharton added: “Tupelo-born, Memphis-bred, he may be gone, but his legacy sure ain’t dead.”
For more information on Elvis Birthday week events go to elvis.com