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Elvis Presley reflected upon by Brenda Nielsen
My Way

SomewElvis Presleyhere between the ending of the Great Depression and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which led to the beginning of World War II, came news that affected the people living in a small rural farmland community of Tupelo MS. News, which would eventually have a profound affect on the entire world. At 4:35am on the morning of January 8, 1935, Elvis was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley. Gladys gave birth to twin boys. Jessie Garon arrived first but was stillborn, and then a very healthy Elvis arrived. Elvis then became their only child. Elvis was born in poverty. They lived in a two-room shotgun house built by Vernon. As a result of the Great Depression, Vernon had trouble finding work. He was a sharecropper by trade and as such had to move from one job to another just to raise enough money to support the family. The Presley’s attended the local Assembly of God church in Tupelo which as we learned later was to play a large part in Elvis’ future music ambitions.

The Presley’s lost their home and was forced to move in with relatives. In 1941, the big day arrived andElvis Home Elvis started his first grade at the East Tupelo Consolidated School. At the encouragement of his teachers, Elvis entered a local singing contest held Young Elvisat the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. He was ten years old, dressed as a cowboy and he had to stand on a chair in order to reach the microphone…the song was Red Foley’s rendition of “Old Shep”. His parents acknowledged his musical talent and purchased a guitar for his tenth birthday. Elvis remembers saying “I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it”.

In 1948, the Presley’s moved from Tupelo, MS to Memphis, TN. They lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a public housing complex known as the Lauderdale Courts. Elvis was enrolled at L. C. Humes High School where he wasn’t openly accepted by his classmates. However, it was during this time in his life that he started singing with some of the local boys, hanging out at the blues club on Beale Street and changing his appearance to the flashy clothes, long side burns and punk rock look. Elvis stated “I wasn’t popular in school…I failed music..only thing I ever failed. And then they Elvisentered me in a talent show…when I came onstage I heard people kind of rumbling and whispering and so forth, “cause nobody knew I even sang. It was amazing how popular I became after that.” During this time he held several jobs: Usher at Lowe’s State Theater, Precision Tool Company and MARI Metal Products.

Elvis graduated from high school in 1953 and by this time he knew the career path he was going to follow. So in August he went to Sun Records in hopes that he would be discovered. But it was a rough go. He was rejected several times. Then he decided he would try out for a Southern Gospel Quartet, the Songfellows. They would not hire him because he couldn’t hear harmony. He took a job driving truck for Crown Electric. But then the big break came, with guitarist Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black backing Elvis, came the life changing song “That’s All Right Mama”…then came “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and from there a music icon was born. Because Elvis didn’t stay in one genre of music, it was hard for the radio stations to classify his style of music. Elvis said: “I sing all kinds of music”. During the mid 1950’s, Elvis was a regular on the Louisiana Hayride being billed as “The King of Western Bop”, “The I did it my way.Hillbilly Cat”, and “The Memphis Flash”. For Elvis, everything was on the rise. The rivalry between variety TV show hosts Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan helped catapult Elvis to unprecedented fame. Who could forget his rendition of “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel”. His rock ‘n roll gyrations, hip moving pelvis swinging motions sold the song but brought about controversy among the parents and church goers.

As Elvis’ music rose to fame, a cultural shift was taking place that he both helped inspire and came to symbolize. Igniting the “biggest pop craze since Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra…Presley brought rock ‘n roll into the mainstream of popular culture.” Elvis set the artistic pace, and then other artists followed. Elvis, more than anyone else, gave the young a belief in themselves as a distinct and somehow unified generation. This was the first in America ever to feel the power of an integrated youth culture.

I was honored to meet and spend time with Elvis. In 1960, at the Gospel All Night Singing held at the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis, Elvis spotted me backstage. He asked James Blackwood of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet to introduce us. Elvis had recently gotten out of the Army. We had a lot ofElvis in the Army sherrill and Brendacommon ground to discuss: our love for music, my brother - Monty, was in the Army and my other brother - Daune, had served time in the Marines. We talked about our dreams, the future and our goals. Elvis invited me to Graceland. I can’t say enough about what a great friend he was to me over the years. He told me about his time in Germany and I got to see those points of interest while Sherrill and I were on our European Tour’s. We sang in Bad Nauheim and Florstadt, Germany, which were close to Friedberg. While touring, we saw the barracks where he was stationed and the hotel where he lived during his time in Germany. After his hitch in the Army, he returned to his music and had hit after hit: “Stuck on You”, “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. We all knew, at that point in time……he was back. Over the next few years he starred in movies, returned to TV and cut many RCA records. It was in May 1966, that Sherrill and Elvis met and when these two music icons met, an immediate bond was made which turned into a lifelong friendship. Elvis was at RCA Studio cutting his “How Great Thou Art” record and Sherrill was singing tenor for the group – Jake Hess and the Imperials. Elvis walked into the RCA Studio, went straight over to Sherrill and said “Hi, I’m Elvis Presley and I have all of your records and you are one of my favorite singers”. This was later confirmed by Elvis’ producer, Felton Jarvis. Felton said that Elvis spent many hours listening to Sherrill sing. When Sherrill joined Elvis’ entourage and music staff, Sherrill and Elvis spent a lot of time together listening to records, selecting songs and hanging out. It was during this recording session that I got to see Elvis again. He had Sherrill call and ask me to come down to RCA and measure him for some fancy stage-type shirts (like Sher Ree'  and Elvisthe ones I made for Sherrill). So about 3:00a.m. SherRee’ and I arrived at the studio, Elvis took SherRee’ and went straight to the piano and played and sang her some lullabies. Elvis loved children and I was so happy when I heard the news that he and Priscilla had a daughter, Lisa Marie. Elvis was a wonderful dotting father.

Colonel Parker kept Elvis busy in Hollywood for quite a few years with his heavy moviemaking schedule. Elvis wanted to get back to his roots and that of soul searchin’ singing. He finally got to do that at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in the early 1970’s and he started performing in concerts throughout the United States. In 1972, MGM filed Elvis for Elvis“Elvis on Tour, which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Documentary Film of the year. Later that year came the gospel album “He Touched Me”, which earned him his second Grammy Award for Best Inspirational Performance. It was during this time of his success that Elvis asked Sherrill to bring his trio (the Rangers) and sing backup on his shows, write music for him and travel with him. So, the two music icons were “Together Again”. Elvis renamed Sherrill’s group VOICE, called Elvishis father and said: “Dad, I finally have my own group”.

By now, Elvis had left the moviemaking scene behind and was concentrating on his live performances and tour schedule. But for Elvis, trouble was brewing on the home front. He and his wife, Priscilla were drifting apart and this was a blow to him that he would never recover from. He and Sherrill were sitting around the piano in Los Angeles when he asked Sherrill” “Why is it so often that the one you love the most is the one least likely to love you”. He then asked Sherrill to sing a song for him that Sherrill wrote when Brenda broke up with him called “Times Gonna’ Heal The Pain”. Elvis had Sherrill sing that song many times for him.

Over the ensuing years, Elvis’ concert schedule was very demanding, his health was failing, but he Elvis Presleycontinued to give it all he had. He did it “his way”. He was tired of people telling him what they wanted him to do because all of his live he told them: “I will do things “My Way”… a song for which he was able to express his true feelings and goals. Yes, amidst all the cancelled tour dates, the rumblings from his entourage..he did it “My Way”. His last appearance on stage was in ElvisIndianapolis on June 26, 1977. He returned home to Graceland to rest and recuperate before the next round oftours were to begin. However, the next tour never happened. The news of Elvis’ death was heard around the world. Elvis himself once said: “When I was a boy, I was the hero in comic books and in movies. I grew up believing in a dream. Now I’ve lived it out. I did it my way. That’s all a man can ask for”. Yes, my friend, you did it your way and what a wonderful legacy you have given all of us. I wish to share two of my favorite pictures of Elvis with you. My dear Elvis, may you rest in peace. We will always love you.

Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) reflected upon by Sherrill Nielsen

Excerpts taken from the soon to be released book of Sherrill Shaun Nielsen – “God Loves You, But He Loves You Best When You Sing" ------Elvis Presley

The years I traveled with, lived with and sang with Elvis were some of the happiest years of my life. Elvis gave me the confidence to do what needed to be done. I grew up in a very controlled and unhappy family situation, my confidence waivered at best. I can remember the first time I met Elvis at the RCA Studio in Nashville TN. Elvis came straight over to me and said: “Hi, I’m Elvis Presley...I have all of your records and you are one of my favorite singers.” That was back in 1966. Now, it is 2010 and I am reminiscing about a man that I can honestly say is the most compassionate, loving, kind, generous, humble and loyal friend I know. Elvis’ memories will live on in my heart and life forever. I have been with Elvis on his happy days and also on his sad and lonely days.

Our next encounter was in Long Beach CA. I was singing with the Statesmen Quartet and he came out to our concert, asked me to sing the Impossible Dream for him and later gave me a TCB necklace. Emotionally, I was on the highest mountain peak around because I know that my song meant a lot to Elvis and Sherrillhim. He grew up in poverty, rose above poverty and discovered that all he had to do was dream of brighter days and bigger things and look where his dream got him. I joined Elvis in the early 1970’s and stayed with him till his passing in August 1977. I have so many great stories and so many wonderful memories I could share with you. I recall a song that he always asked me to sing for him - “Funny How Time Slip’s Away”. How ironic, since that is my feeling today…our time together slipped away too quickly. We had days filled with singing, performing, recording, laughing, crying but they all ended too soon. The songs we did as duets aren’t the same anymore.

Our Grammy Award song –" Softly, As I Leave You” has taken on a new meaning for me now…you are the one that left. EP, you are missed by all and loved by all. Your memory will always be in my heart. Someday, we will all get to sing together in God’s Heavenly choir. But until then my friend, I will dedicate my songs to you. You have left a void and an emptiness that no one else will ever be able to fill.

Voice of Nashville
Brenda Nielsen
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