Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Elvis Presley

Music History Monday: All Hail The King!

We mark an online auction that concluded on August 7, 2008 – 15 years ago today – at which Elvis Presley’s white, sweat-stained, high-collared, plunging V-necked jumpsuit, decorated with a dazzling, hand-embroidered blue and gold peacock – sold for $300,000.  (Because I know you want to know, the jumpsuit is cinched at the waist by a wide belt decorated in gold medallions in a design meant to resemble the eye of a peacock feather, all of it an ongoing reflection of Elvis’ fascination with peacocks as being his personal good luck symbol.) The outfit cost Elvis a cool $10,000.  It was designed by the Los Angeles couturier Bill Belew (1931-2008), who designed all of The King’s stage wardrobe between 1968 and 1977. Talk about provenance (something we’ll define and discuss in just a bit)!  Aside from Elvis’ personal sweat stains (do they still . . . give off an odor?), he performed wearing the jumpsuit for the better part of a year.  Elvis first wore the “peacock” at a concert at the Forum in Los Angeles on May 11, 1974.  He then performed wearing it in Las Vegas and wore it as well on the cover of his album “Promised […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: A Rockin’ Day

What July 4th is for Americans; what Bastille Day on July 14th is for the French; what St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th is for the Irish, and what the Black-Necked Crane Festival on November 11th is for the Bhutanese, so January 4th is for fans of rock ‘n’ roll: a day when so much stuff happened as to enshrine it as a major, rock ‘n’ roll holiday! What, pray tell, happened on this day? Thank you for asking. Elvis Presley and Sam Philips It was on January 4, 1954 – 67 years ago today – that Elvis Presley, four days short of his 20th birthday (on January 8), came to the attention of the record producer and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips (1923-2003). It was the singular event that vaulted Elvis to stardom. Here’s what happened. On this day in 1954, Elvis made his second visit to the studios of the Memphis Recording Studio, which shared an office with Sun Records. On his first visit – six months before, on July 18, 1953 – Presley had recorded two songs (at his expense) on a two-sided, 10-inch acetate disc, claiming that the recording was a “gift for his mother.” […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Elvis Presley’s Birth House

It was on June 1, 1971 – 49 years ago today – that the two-room shotgun house in Tupelo Mississippi in which Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was born was opened to the public as a tourist attraction. The house, located at 306 Old Satillo Drive (today 306 Elvis Presley Drive) was built by Presley’s father Vernon, his grandfather Jesse, and his uncle Vester in 1934 for $180. It was designated a State Historical Site by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History on January 8, 1978, on what would have been Elvis’ 43rd birthday. The house is but one small step removed from the fabled log cabin birth houses of such American icons as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses Grant (and yes, Millard Fillmore). In total, Presley’s birth house can’t occupy much more than 600 square feet.  Behind the front door is the house’s one-and-only bedroom, in which Elvis was born. Behind the bedroom is the kitchen, and that’s it: a rear door leads to the back yard where the outhouse once stood. It was a difficult birth for Gladys Presley (1912-1958). Elvis was a twin. He was born some 35 minutes after his identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: A Bevy of Firsts and Number Ones!

Before moving on to our “firsts” and “number ones”, we would acknowledge an event that picks up on the Music History Monday post of March 2, 2020. That postmarked the death in 1830 of the violinist and conductor Ignaz Schuppanzigh. Schuppanzigh was a loyal friend and supporter of Beethoven and his music, despite Beethoven’s often abusive fat-shaming of the admittedly zaftig violinist. Schuppanzigh participated in more premieres of Beethoven’s music than any other musician other than Beethoven himself, and his unwavering devotion to Beethoven and his music continued after Beethoven’s death. On March 23, 1828 – 192 years ago today – the Schuppanzigh String Quartet posthumously premiered Beethoven’s final string quartet: the F major, Op. 135 of 1826 in Vienna. At the time of the premiere Beethoven had been dead for just under a year: for 362 days. With this posthumous premiere, Schuppanzigh’s life-long service to Beethoven as a first performer came to an end. On March 23, 1956 – 64 years ago today – RCA Victor records released Elvis Presley’s debut LP (long-playing) record, catalog number LPM-1254. There are 12 songs on the album, six on each side, recorded between July 5, 1954 and January 30, 1956, totaling 28 […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Whoa

When it comes to a date-oriented blog like this one, there are days and then there are days.  Over the two-plus years since I began this post, I have found that most days offer up one or two major (or semi-major) events in music history. These are the good days, the easy days to write about. Some days are harder as events of any note are few and far between. There are days – more frequent than you might think – during which virtually nothing of interest occurred; when that happens I’ve either juked forward or back by a day or just taken the opportunity to bloviate.  Finally, every now and then, there is a day so filled with notable musical anniversaries that the mind reels and the bladder weakens at the thought of choosing just one, two, or even three events to write about. For reasons coincidental, astrological, or just whatever, October 1 is just such a day in music history: the wealth of events – major and minor – that occurred on this date is crazy. I cannot and will not choose; let’s just wallow, in chronological order. On October 1, 1708 – 310 years ago today – […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: The Colonel

Let us contemplate the word “colonel.” No, we’re not talking about a discreet unit of corn, “k-e-r-n-a-l”; rather, we’re talking about the military rank and honorific of “colonel”: “c-o-l-o-n-e-l.” The word itself is of Italian origin; its root is the word colonna, which means “column”; in this case, as in a “column of soldiers”. By the sixteenth century, the word “colonello” was employed as a high military rank – someone who commanded a “column of soldiers” – in the various armies of the Italian city-states. Just as the French adapted Italian cuisine to create their own (that was thanks to the Florentine Princess Caterina Maria Romola di Lorenzo de’ Medici, who as Queen of France from 1547 until 1559 and Queen Mother from 1559 to 1589 brought her cooks and the fork to France, giving birth to French cuisine); yes, just as the French made Italian cuisine their own, so they borrowed the Italian word “colonello” and made it their own, spelling (and pronouncing) it “coronel” – “c-o-r-o-n-e-l”. By the seventeenth century, the English military had adopted the word as well, employing the French pronunciation – coronel – but the Italian spelling: colonel. The rank of colonel in the United […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Microphones

On April 30th, 1977 – 41 years ago today – the English rock band Led Zeppelin set a new attendance record for a single-act, non-festival ticketed concert, when it played to an audience of 77,229 in Pontiac, Michigan at the Pontiac Silverdome, the capacity of which was a bit over 82,000. That information got me to thinking about the impact of amplification on the performance of music, particularly the amplification of music performed by the human voice. While the first microphones were developed independently by David Edward Hughes, Emile Berliner, and Thomas Edison in the 1870s, they were not employed in ballrooms and theaters to actually amplify a human voice performing live music until the very early 1930s. Up to that time, the largest possible performance venue for a trained singer was an opera house, and for most pop singers, spaces considerably smaller. Microphones and amplification rendered venue size moot; miked and amplified, anyone could be heard anywhere. Microphones and amplification also had a tremendous impact on voice type as well. You see, until the advent of amplification, the primary male voice type in popular music was the tenor voice. With its natural intensity and relatively high tessitura (vocal range), […]

Continue Reading