Another year has passed, and it’s time to assess what 2017 had to offer Elvis fans. To a large extent, how enjoyable the past year was for the Elvis faithful depended on the choices made by the people running Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises. They’re the ones who control our access to Elvis’s music, to collectibles, and to his home. Two days before year’s end, Graceland’s weekly blog declared the following:
“No matter what year it is, our New Year’s Resolutions here at Graceland are always the same: (1) Celebrate the life and legacy of Elvis Presley. (2) Find new and interesting ways to tell Elvis’ story so that it’s always fresh, even to Elvis fans who have visited the king’s castle a hundred times. (3) Introduce Elvis to a new generation of fans. This year, 2017, we can say we did all those things—and on a much larger, more grand scale than ever before.”
To corroborate these claims, Graceland’s blogger offered a list of “Graceland’s Top 20 Moments of 2017.” Here they are, each followed by some brief commentary. (The blogger noted that they were “in no particular order,” but they were listed in countdown order from 20 to 1.)
20. Elvis received Gold and Platinum awards for two albums with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO).
AH: I purchased both of these CDs last year, but I’m going to withhold my opinion on them for now. Some fans have strong feelings about the altering of Elvis’s original recordings in this or any other way. My next blog on January 18 will address this issue, and specifically the RPO mixes.
19. New Elvis Songs were included in an Elvis RPO Christmas album and in the “A Boy From Tupelo” package of his 1953-1955 recordings issued earlier in the year.
AH: The “A Boy From Tupelo” release was one my two biggest Elvis highlights of 2017. (The other was the publication of the “Elvis: The Movies” book.) Since I missed out on the FTD expanded edition of the “Tupelo” package when it sold out quickly a couple of years ago, I appreciated RCA making at least a scaled down edition available. As for the RPO Elvis Christmas CD, I didn’t purchase it. There are only a few of Elvis’s Christmas songs I like anyway, and I doubt they’d sound any better with strings added.
18. The “Wonder of You” Elvis concert played across America, Europe, and Australia in 2017.
AH: This show, with Elvis on screen behind a live orchestra, didn’t come anywhere near where I live, but if it was playing right across the street from my house, I wouldn’t have gone to it. I saw Elvis perform live twice, so this certainly wouldn’t have impressed me at all. I won’t say it never should have happened, though, as I’m sure it appealed to many younger Elvis fans, and maybe brought some new fans into the Presley fold.
17. “Elvis on Tour: The Exhibition,” featuring over 200 artifacts from Elvis’s live shows and tours, is now on display at The O2 in London.
AH: Does this make up for Elvis never finding the time to tour the UK? Again, I wouldn’t pay to see something like this. Elvis’s jumpsuits kind of repulse me. A similar exhibition in Las Vegas in 2015 fell flat on its face. Give me Graceland’s “Elvis Presley’s Memphis,” where the legendary 1957 gold lamé suit and the 1968 leather outfit can be seen close up.
16. Graceland’s web series, the Gates of Graceland, continued to delight fans with behind-the-scenes action and artifacts.
AH: Graceland’s blogger claims these web video episodes have had more than a million views so far. I’ve never seen one, so I really can’t comment on them. However, Graceland should be applauded for streaming these short videos, which, apparently, so many Elvis fans find interesting.
15. A new exhibit, “Icons: The Influence of Elvis Presley,” is popular at Elvis Presley’s Memphis.
AH: The Graceland blog shows a picture of four apparently life-size mannequins of each member of KISS in the exhibit featuring “artifacts from artists, actors and other stars who were influenced by the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.” Bruce Spingsteen, certainly. James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, maybe, but how could Elvis have influenced others in this exhibit, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for one? Just liking Elvis’s music or movies doesn’t mean he “influenced” that performer. I guess Graceland feels there's some value in expanding Elvis’s legacy beyond its true limits.
14. The Guest House at Graceland turned one.
AH: I cheered Graceland when it invested in a luxury hotel next door, and I’m looking forward to staying there when visiting Graceland later this year. I’m wondering, though, how the Guest House faired financially in its first year. Rooms were undoubtedly full during Elvis Week in August and Elvis’s birthday week in January, but did it fill enough rooms the rest of the year to make its mortgage payment? Let’s hope so.
13. Three auctions of Elvis artifacts took place at Graceland in 2017.
AH: Graceland’s auctions work like this. All items are put up for auction by third parties; nothing comes from the Graceland archives. However, Graceland can bid on items to add to their archives. Elvis collectors also bid on items up for auction, which could include jewelry, guns, books, and awards. Graceland gets a commission on auctioned items and has an opportunity to obtain items; collectors can acquire treasured items; sellers achieve top dollar on their items. Everybody wins! Next auction is Saturday, January 6th.
12. Many celebrities visited Graceland in 2017.
AH: This happens every year, of course. The celebrity visitor log is always interesting. Sometimes, though, it makes you wonder who decides who is a celeb and who isn’t. On the 2017 list were Norman Reedus, Millie Bobby Brown, Niall Horan, Kesha, Aloe Blacc, Jon Bon Jovi, Mike Love, Gina Tognoni, John Mulaney, and Marty Stuart. I only know who three of those people are! That’s probably because I’m so old, though.
11. At Elvis Week 2017, “The Ultimate Return” brought back all the previous 10 winners of the “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.”
AH: According to the Graceland blogger, “Fans loved the chance to re-live some of Elvis’ best performances through these guys.” The only Elvis Impersonator (that’s what he called himself) who ever interested me was Alan Meyer, who started his act when the real Elvis was still alive. The last time I went to see an Elvis Tribute Artist was at a Washington-Idaho state line joint 12 years ago. Halfway through the show, they had to clear the place due to a bomb threat.
10. Gordon Hendricks won the 2017 “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist” contest.
AH: Before going into the ETA business, Gordon was a barber in England. He was known as the “Singing Barber of Stoke.” Can you imagine getting your hair cut by a guy behind you gyrating with scissors and clippers while singing “All Shook Up”? His picture on the blog shows quite a large crowd watching. Inexplicably, to me anyway, there still must be a demand for ETAs.
9. Graceland celebrated Elvis’s 82nd birthday in January 2017.
AH: Would-have-been Elvis birthdays always make me wonder what he would have accomplished if he had lived longer. Frank Sinatra’s career offers an interesting baseline for comparison. Frank died at age 82 in 1998. When Elvis appeared with Frank on his 1960 TV special, Sinatra was then 44, close to the age at which Elvis died. Just think of all that Sinatra accomplished in his career after age 44. He continued to make movies, which included Can-Can, Ocean’s 11, The Manchurian Candidate, Come Blow Your Horn, and Tony Rome. He continued to have hit chart records, including “Strangers in the Night,” “Something Stupid,” “My Way,” and “It Was a Very Good Year.” His TV specials continued into the late 1970s. And, of course, as part of the “Rat Pack,” he was a top draw in Vegas for years. What would Elvis have done with another 40 years of life? It’s depressing to even think about it.
8. As usual, the annual lighting ceremony for Graceland’s Christmas lights and decorations was a special occasion.
AH: We know Elvis loved to decorate Graceland inside and out at Christmas time. The lighting event in December included “kids’ activities and a visit from an Elvis-inspired Santa.” I’m guessing those kids had their image of Santa Claus shattered for good.
7. Graceland’s first-ever Holiday Concert Weekend was held at Elvis Presley’s Memphis.
AH: Graceland always seems to be searching for new events to attract Elvis’ old fans and create new ones. Letting the Elvis brand get stale is not an option if you want it to continue creating and energizing fans. So this Christmas Graceland put on its first-ever “Holiday Concert Weekend.” Three separate concerts were held on the new soundstage at Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Performers ranged from the Imperials to a local middle school choir. Good stuff.
6. Graceland’s racquetball court was restored to its original state.
AH: When I was last at Graceland in 2008, the racquetball court was crammed full of jumpsuits and various Elvis awards. Now all of that has been moved across the street to Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Apparently the racquetball court has been returned to the same state it was in on the night of August 15, 1977, when Elvis worked up a sweat there on the last night of his life. It must be eerie to stand in that space now with that thought in mind.
5. “Graceland Tours” opened for business, offering luxury motor coach tours of Tupelo and the Mississippi Delta.
AH: I’m surprised they didn’t come up with this idea a long time ago. Most Elvis fans who visit Graceland probably at one time or another make the hundred-mile trip to Tupelo to see Elvis’s birthplace. I did the first time I went to Graceland. I wonder, though, what makes this coach a “luxury” one. Maybe certain beverages are served.
4. In 2017 Elvis Week marked the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ passing.
AH: It sounds like Elvis Week in August was much like others in the past. The first thing I always look for on the Elvis Week program are the names of the special guests. When I had an Elvis Expo booth at Elvis Week in 2008, I enjoyed visiting with guests there who had appeared in Elvis’ movies, including Darlene Tompkins (Blue Hawaii) and Celeste Yarnell (Live a Little, Love a Little). Elvis Week 2017 had one of the best guest star lists ever, though. Wanda Jackson, who toured with Elvis in 1955 was there, as were two of Elvis’s Hollywood leading ladies, Marlyn Mason (The Trouble With Girls) and Laurel Goodwin (Girls! Girls! Girls!). Since I have a page on Ms. Goodwin on my website, I occasionally hear from people wanting to know if I can help them get in touch with her. They’re not Elvis fans though; they’re Trekkies who worship her for her role in the pilot episode of the original Star Trek series.
3. Priscilla and Lisa Marie hosted the 39th annual Candlelight Vigil during Elvis Week.
AH: The blog makes no mention of the blowback Graceland received from many fans when they learned just days ahead of the vigil that for the first time they would have to pay to participate in the ceremony. To walk up the long driveway and past Elvis’s grave, visitors were required to have an Elvis Week Property Pass wristband, which cost $28.75. Since the wristband gave access to Elvis Presley’s Memphis complex across the street, many fans already had it. But those who planned on just showing up for the vigil were disappointed and some were downright angry. Graceland should have foreseen that such a late role out of the new policy would alienate some of Elvis’s most faithful fans.
2. Elvis’ white piano returned to the Music Room at Graceland.
AH: As with the racquetball court, Graceland is making an effort to restore the mansion’s interior to what it was like when Elvis lived there. The retrieval of the white piano is in line with that goal. With most of the artifacts moving across the street to Elvis Presley’s Memphis, visitors are starting to see Graceland as Elvis’s home instead of a museum. I’m looking forward to seeing Graceland in a totally different way later this year.
1. “Elvis Presley’s Memphis,” a new, 200,000 square foot, state-of-the-art exhibit and entertainment complex, opened across the street from Graceland on March 2, 2017.
AH: The opening of Elvis Presley’s Memphis was Graceland’s greatest gift to Elvis fans since the mansion itself opened in 1982. Many of the treasured Elvis items that have been stored away in the Graceland archives are now out on display for Elvis fans to see. It’s our Elvis Smithsonian. The Graceland blogger concludes with, “Make your plans to visit today. You’ve never experienced Graceland like this!” I can’t wait.
I strongly recommend the Graceland blog. It began as a day-by-day rundown of Elvis Week in 2014. Since then, though, the weekly blog has branched out to cover many areas of Elvis life and career. Of course, as an agent of Graceland, all the blogs are decidedly positive. You won’t find any tell-all stories there. What you will find is great historical information about Elvis, his music, and his movies. All of the weekly Graceland blogs since 2014 are archived and retrievable from the blog home page at https://www.graceland.com/blog/. — Alan Hanson | © January 2018
"Of course, as an agent of Graceland, all the blogs are decidedly positive. You won’t find any tell-all stories there. What you will find is great historical information about Elvis, his music, and his movies."