Nay-Sayers and Failure on the Way to Success: Singer Elvis Presley

(This post published Sunday, October 30, 2016)

Singer Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, was recently in the news again for breaking a UK album record: Elvis now has more number one albums than any other solo act in the UK.

Via The Economic Times:
Topping the chart: Elvis Presley most successful solo artist in UK

LONDON: Musician Elvis Presley has broken the record for the most number one albums in the UK after his recently released album “The Wonder Of You” flew to the top of the charts.

Presley is the most successful solo artist of all time in the UK.

…his latest LP “The Wonder Of You: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” flew to the top of the official Album Charts on Friday, making him the only solo musician to have 13 Number One albums across England, Scotland and Wales.

This story got me wondering about Elvis and his career. I did some googling and read his entire page on Wikipedia.

Elvis is one of the most adored entertainers of all time, with a lot of commercial and critical success as well. He had a lot of hit songs.

As I was reading about his background, I was struck by the number of teachers and other people who told him before he became famous that he was a terrible singer. Several people told him he was terrible at singing, that he should give it up, and he failed a music class.

I also find it fascinating that Elvis was painfully shy on stage when he was a kid and starting out in his singing career.

Here are some excerpts from Elvis’ Wiki page:

Presley is one of the most celebrated and influential musicians of the 20th century. Commercially successful in many genres, including pop, blues and gospel, he is the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music, with estimated record sales of around 600 million units worldwide.

He won three Grammys, also receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36, and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame.

…In September 1941, Presley entered first grade at East Tupelo Consolidated, where his instructors regarded him as “average”. He was encouraged to enter a singing contest after impressing his schoolteacher with a rendition of Red Foley’s country song “Old Shep” during morning prayers.

The contest, held at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show on October 3, 1945, was his first public performance: dressed as a cowboy, the ten-year-old Presley stood on a chair to reach the microphone and sang “Old Shep”. He recalled placing fifth.

A few months later, Presley received his first guitar for his birthday; he had hoped for something else—by different accounts, either a bicycle or a rifle.

 Over the following year, he received basic guitar lessons from two of his uncles and the new pastor at the family’s church. Presley recalled, “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.”

…Entering a new school, Milam, for sixth grade in September 1946, Presley was regarded as a loner. The following year, he began bringing his guitar in on a daily basis. He played and sang during lunchtime, and was often teased as a “trashy” kid who played hillbilly music.

…When his protégé was 12 years old, Slim scheduled him for two on-air performances. Presley was overcome by stage fright the first time, but succeeded in performing the following week.

In November 1948, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. After residing for nearly a year in rooming houses, they were granted a two-bedroom apartment in the public housing complex known as the Lauderdale Courts.

Enrolled at L. C. Humes High School, Presley received only a C in music in eighth grade.

When his music teacher told him he had no aptitude for singing, he brought in his guitar the next day and sang a recent hit, “Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me”, in an effort to prove otherwise.

A classmate later recalled that the teacher “agreed that Elvis was right when he said that she didn’t appreciate his kind of singing.”

 He was usually too shy to perform openly, and was occasionally bullied by classmates who viewed him as a “mama’s boy”.

In 1950, he began practicing guitar regularly under the tutelage of Jesse Lee Denson, a neighbor two-and-a-half years his senior.

…Presley recalled that the performance [in a 1953 music show] did much for his reputation: “I wasn’t popular in school … I failed music—only thing I ever failed. And then they entered me in this 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.

Presley, who never received formal music training or learned to read music, studied and played by ear.

…In January 1954, Presley cut a second acetate at Sun Records—”I’ll Never Stand In Your Way” and “It Wouldn’t Be the Same Without You”—but again nothing came of it.

Not long after, he [Elvis] failed an audition for a local vocal quartet, the Songfellows. He explained to his father, “They told me I couldn’t sing.”

 Songfellow Jim Hamill later claimed that he was turned down because he did not demonstrate an ear for harmony at the time.

In April, Presley began working for the Crown Electric company as a truck driver.

His friend Ronnie Smith, after playing a few local gigs with him, suggested he contact Eddie Bond, leader of Smith’s professional band, which had an opening for a vocalist.

Bond rejected him after a tryout, advising Presley to stick to truck driving “because you’re never going to make it as a singer”.

…The trio played publicly for the first time on July 17 at the Bon Air club—Presley still sporting his child-size guitar. At the end of the month, they appeared at the Overton Park Shell, with Slim Whitman headlining.

A combination of his strong response to rhythm and nervousness at playing before a large crowd led Presley to shake his legs as he performed: his wide-cut pants emphasized his movements, causing young women in the audience to start screaming.

Moore recalled, “During the instrumental parts, he would back off from the mike and be playing and shaking, and the crowd would just go wild”.

…Presley made what would be his only appearance on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry on October 2; after a polite audience response, Opry manager Jim Denny told Phillips that his singer was “not bad” but did not suit the program.

 Two weeks later, Presley was booked on Louisiana Hayride, the Oprys chief, and more adventurous, rival. The Shreveport-based show was broadcast to 198 radio stations in 28 states.

Presley had another attack of nerves during the first set, which drew a muted reaction. A more composed and energetic second set inspired an enthusiastic response.

…Presley made his television debut on March 3 on the KSLA-TV broadcast of Louisiana Hayride. Soon after, he failed an audition for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts on the CBS television network.

…This blend of styles made it difficult for Presley’s music to find radio airplay. According to Neal, many country-music disc jockeys would not play it because he sounded too much like a black artist and none of the rhythm-and-blues stations would touch him because “he sounded too much like a hillbilly.” The blend came to be known as rockabilly.

…Presley renewed Neal’s management contract in August 1955, simultaneously appointing Parker as his special adviser. The group maintained an extensive touring schedule throughout the second half of the year.

 Neal recalled, “It was almost frightening, the reaction that came to Elvis from the teenaged boys. So many of them, through some sort of jealousy, would practically hate him. There were occasions in some towns in Texas when we’d have to be sure to have a police guard because somebody’d always try to take a crack at him. They’d get a gang and try to waylay him or something.”

…At the Country Disc Jockey Convention in early November, Presley was voted the year’s most promising male artist. Several record companies had by now shown interest in signing him. After three major labels made offers of up to $25,000, Parker and Phillips struck a deal with RCA Victor on November 21 to acquire Presley’s Sun contract for an unprecedented $40,000.

…Twelve weeks after its original release, “Heartbreak Hotel” became Presley’s first number-one pop hit.

In late April, Presley began a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The shows were poorly received by the conservative, middle-aged hotel guests—”like a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party,” wrote a critic for Newsweek.

…Presley’s gyrations [in a televised performance of the song ‘Hound Dog’ on the Milton Berle Show] created a storm of controversy. Newspaper critics were outraged: Jack Gould of The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability. … His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub. … His one specialty is an accented movement of the body … primarily identified with the repertoire of the blond bombshells of the burlesque runway.”

 Ben Gross of the New York Daily News opined that popular music “has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley. … Elvis, who rotates his pelvis … gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos”.

 Ed Sullivan, whose own variety show was the nation’s most popular, declared him “unfit for family viewing”.

The Berle shows drew such high ratings that Presley was booked for a July 1 appearance on NBC’s Steve Allen Show in New York.

…As described by television historian Jake Austen, “Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd … [he] set things up so that Presley would show his contrition”.

…The single pairing “Don’t Be Cruel” with “Hound Dog” ruled the top of the charts for 11 weeks—a mark that would not be surpassed for 36 years.

… Allen’s show with Presley had, for the first time, beaten CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings. Sullivan, despite his June pronouncement, booked the singer for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000.

…Accompanying Presley’s rise 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”, writes historian Marty Jezer.

…In his first full year at RCA, one of the music industry’s largest companies, Presley had accounted for over 50 percent of the label’s singles sales.

..Each of the three Presley singles released in the first half of 1957 went to number one: “Too Much”, “All Shook Up”, and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”. Already an international star, he was attracting fans even where his music was not officially released.

Elvis’ career went on for a long while after that. He later faced prescription drug and health problems, a divorce, and other obstacles.

Then there’s this (source):

… Elvis was invited to appear on the Louisiana Hayride country show and at the Grand Ole Opry.

At the Opry, however, the first of the many controversies that were to engulf Elvis almost caused him to give up his career. Told by the talent booker there that he was no good, Elvis broke into tears and left his performing costume in a filling station.

He recovered quickly, though, and went on to record a whole string of hits for Sun Records, which sold his contract for $40,000 — then a record — to RCA in 1955. His first record for RCA was ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, which early in 1956 made him a nationwide sensation.

I just find it so interesting to read about the start of his career. His career was pretty successful overall, but there were so many nay-sayers and Debbie Downers along the way, especially when he was starting out.

I am just intrigued at how Elvis failed, or just did “so-so” at his music classes as a kid and a teen. He froze in fear and stage fright early on in his performing career, too. This is Elvis we’re talking about – the guy who went on to be so very closely associated and aligned with Rock N’ Roll music.

Elvis, as must of us feel now, is synonymous with Rock’N’Roll music. How funny to read the music critics of the 1950s saying he had no singing talent – how ignorant they sound.

So many people told Elvis on his way up that he didn’t have enough talent or skill to make it in the music world – but he did it. He went on to have a career with a lot of hit songs. He didn’t let the negative jerks stop him from going on and shooting for his dream.

I don’t come from a supportive family at all – most of them, except for my mother, (who passed away years ago), are very critical and negative towards me. I have had a few non-family through the years tell me I’m not good enough to do whatever goal it is I’m pursuing, as well.

It helps to read the biographies of people who endured the same thing – a lot of negativity and condemnation, but in the end, they accomplished their goals anyway.

See Also:

Biographies of Famous Writers Show That Even Brilliant Careers Suck Sometimes by C. Purtill

Entertainers Cher and Goldie Hawn Admit to Struggles with Insecurity or Anxiety

You’re Not Failing Enough, by Diane Paddison

Beatrix Potter, Work Rejected, Self-Published “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” Now a Bestseller for All Time

Thirty Five Famous People Who Were Painfully Rejected Before Making It Big

News Anchor Melissa Francis: From Failure to Success

Songs – Motivational and Encouraging (a list with embedded You Tube videos)

Why the Fear of Rejection Overrides One’s Ability to Ask for What They Want or Need

“I got a letter saying I wasn’t what they were looking for” – news reporter Lester Holt 

How Successful People Stay Calm by Travis Bradberry

Why the Best Success Stories Often Begin With Failure by Amy Crawford

This Man Read 2000 Obituaries in a Year and Here’s What he Learned

Best-Sellers Initially Rejected

Forget Positive Thinking: This Is How To Actually Change Negative Thoughts For Success by M. Wilding

After 27 Rejections, Dr. Seuss Almost Burned His First Unpublished Book – But He Hung In There and Went on to Become a Best-Selling Author

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