Las Vegas, which translates from Spanish as «fertile valleys», is a world center of entertainment for every taste. Since the second half of the twentieth century, Las Vegas seems to be «the city of a thousand lights», and one of the greatest centers of show business development. Elvis Presley was one of the first Hollywood stars to fall in love with this city. He gave a huge variety of concerts in Las Vegas hotels, presented there his new shows and signed dozens of contracts for recording and shooting. Vegas can rightly be considered the second home of the artist, while he was the soul of the city. This paper aims to describe the Presley’s path that led him to the «sin city», the Vegas era in Elvis ‘ career, and the legacy that remained there after him.
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Elvis and His Path to Fame
Musician and actor Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. At the age of 10, the boy got his first guitar, and later he won a musical competition at Humes High School in Memphis, which allowed him to feel the first taste of victory.
After graduating from high school, Presley worked in many places at the same time, trying to realize his dream to become famous in the musical field. He recorded his first demo of the song in a location that would later be called “Sun Studio”. Sam Phillips, the owner of the studio, decided to take the young singer under his wing. Soon Presley recorded his songs and went on tour in the hope of success. Presley’s first single was That’s All Right.
Shortly, Presley began to acquire fans attracted by his unusual musical style and pleasant appearance. In the same year, he signed a contract with the “RCA Records” studio. In 1956, Presley became successful recording his single Heartbreak Hotel and his first album Elvis Presley; and the singer also signed a contract with Paramount Pictures as an actor (Gregory 104). Despite the gossip about the obscene movements of his hips, he became a frequent guest at numerous pop television concerts.
Soon Presley was everywhere – on radio, television, and screen, working as a musician and actor. His first film Love Me Tender, released in 1956, became an immediate hit (Gregory 115). Even military service did not interfere with the rapidly growing popularity of Elvis: his pre-recorded songs continued to be released. In subsequent years, he continued to study music and starred in films such as Blue Hawaii in 1961, Girls! Girls! Girls! in 1962 and Viva Las Vegas in 1964 (Gregory 137). According to Goggin, “the Hollywood-Vegas outreach to youth culture reached a high point with the Elvis Presley vehicle Viva Las Vegas” (249). The moment of the singer’s acquaintance with Las Vegas is considered one of the most important in his career; it has fundamentally affected the reputation of the city as well.
In the Lights of Las Vegas
On April 15, 1969, Presley signed a contract with the newly built hotel “International”, in 1971 renamed as “Las Vegas Hilton”, for the summer engagement. He received for it an unprecedented for Las Vegas amount of 500 000 dollars (Goggin 256). The program included hits from the 1950s – early 1960s, as well as several new performances and cover versions of modern songs. Right after the success of the Las Vegas shows, two live records were released: Elvis in Person and On Stage.
Soon Presley found his new image. In February 1970, he appeared on stage in a white flared jumpsuit, trimmed with macramé and fastened with a large buckle. According to King, “for Elviss impersonators worldwide, the preferred image is the Las Vegas white spangled suit” (174). Over time, the design of costumes became more complicated, with the addition of precious stones, rhinestones, and metal jewelry, but the style remained the same. There were so-called Elvis impersonators, who performed in his outfit on every corner in Las Vegas. According to Gregory, “while Elvis was in Las Vegas, he watched headliners in no less than six of the hotels spoofing him in their acts” (149). Some of the parodies were humorous, and others were an attempt to demonstrate admiration for the singer.
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Touring and engagements in Las Vegas soon became the main content of Presley’s career. As for the work in the studio, his interest in it almost completely disappeared. This period was captured in a new documentary film Elvis on tour, directed by Robert Abel and Pierre Edige. The next project was the concert “Aloha from Hawaii”, which became the first show in the world, which was broadcast via global satellite communication.
The performance fees amounted to 900,000 dollars, and the entire profit from the tickets was donated to the charity fund fighting cancer. A few weeks after the Hawaiian concert, Presley played his eighth season in Las Vegas, during which the singer had to miss several performances due to health problems. For many years, Elvis Presley was dependent on officially prescribed medicine, which became drugs for him. He was only 42 years old when he was found dead at his Graceland mansion.
Las Vegas and the King’s Legacy
Las Vegas is a place of fame, where all Hollywood stars are happy to give concerts, and young talents dream to debut. However, this was not always the case: initially it was an unremarkable provincial town; civilization and economic development reached it with difficulty. According to Rothman, “Las Vegas was an insignificant part of a great government-industry matrix that defined the twentieth century” (3). Everything changed when the gambling industry grew in a small town in Nevada, and when money began to appear there. But at the heart of the incredible popularity and glory of Las Vegas is a long-term relationship with the music and film industry.
With his constant presence, Elvis Presley has done more for Las Vegas than all the casinos and hotels combined. He gave the city an image, inspiring it with his style and taste. It was after Elvis that Vegas turned from a «sin city» into a city of freedom and creativity. Every street is imbued with the singers spirit, and every citizen is proud of the fact that Las Vegas is the city to which Elvis Presley was most attached and devoted most of his career.
A new exhibition dedicated to the creative path of Elvis Presley opened in Las Vegas in 2015. Hotel Westgate Resort Casino, where Presley made more than 600 performances, engaged in the organization of a permanent exhibition, which was called “Graceland Presents ELVIS: the Exhibition – the Show – the Experience”. According to Harrison, “the exhibition covers an area of 28,000 square feet, and visitors not only see displays telling Elviss life story, but their visit concludes with the film featuring his greatest performances” (82).
Hundreds of exhibits that have never left the walls of the famous Graceland mansion in Memphis, including a new showroom, are now available to all visitors. David Siegel, CEO of the Westgate resort, said that Elvis is synonymous with Las Vegas, so such an exhibition is a must (Harrison 83). The first wife of the singer Priscilla and their only daughter Lisa Marie attended the event among the guests of honor. This exhibition has become another hallmark of Las Vegas, strengthening its relationship with the great artist.
Even after the death of the singer, his music continues to connect hearts and worship love. Young people from all over the world rush to Las Vegas to get married in Graceland Wedding Chapel, where the ceremony is accompanied by the hits of Elvis Presley (Harrison 84). They invite actors dressed like Elvis, who will sing at the wedding and solemnly lead the bride to the groom. Las Vegas is considered one of the best places in the world to celebrate a wedding, mainly because of Elvis ‘ romantic songs.
The influence of Elvis Presley on Las Vegas is a recognized fact, and his legacy in this city is incomparable in grandeur with any phenomenon of musical culture. Although the creativity of the singer influenced the whole world, Las Vegas remains a sacred place for every rock and roll lover. When the star faded, Vegas became the place where the «pilgrims» strive to touch the greatness of the era called Elvis Presley. The unprecedented popularity of the singer, his influence on several generations and the fact that his music radically changed the appearance of the whole city, suggests that the possibilities of art are almost limitless.
Goggin, Joyce. “Opening Shots and Loose Slots: Adapting Las Vegas.” Screen, vol. 56, no. 2, 2015, pp. 245-252.
Gregory, James. The Elvis Presley Story. Edizioni Savine, 2016.
Harrison, Ted. The Death and Resurrection of Elvis Presley. Reaktion Books, 2016.
King, Christine. 11 The Death of a King: Elvis Presley (1935–1977). The Changing Face of Death: Historical Accounts of Death and Disposal, 2016.
Rothman, Hal. Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the Twenty-First Century. Routledge, 2015.