Last week, we began a three-part look at the Americana Music Triangle – a celebration of the rich musical legacy of the South. We started in Muscle Shoals, and head into the state of Mississippi for a trip to Tupelo – one of the most unique tourist destinations of the south – and the home of an American legend!
On January 8, 1935, Tupelo residents Vernon and Gladys Presley had two sons. The first – Jesse Garon – died at birth, while the second one was born without any difficulties. His name? Elvis Aron Presley. The family called the northeastern Mississippi town home until 1948 – at which time they moved to Memphis. It was there that “The King” would make musical history, but the singer never forgot his roots. In September 1956 – as well as one year later, the entertainment icon returned to Tupelo, performing two very historic concerts. The second show – which raised money to build a Youth Center and park for Tupelo – was one of the more legendary Presley performances of the early years.
If you want to get in touch with Presley’s roots, then a trip to Tupelo is something that you very much need to consider. A quick two hours or so from Jackson down Highway 45, the city definitely celebrates the roots of the man who revolutionized American music. Visit the place where it all began for the singer at the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum. The home, built in 1934 by Vernon – along with his father and brother – for $180, still stands today and attracts thousands of visitors each year. If you’re expecting the southern regal charm of Graceland, think again. This house – which was in the middle of a poor district of town called Shake Rag – was a modest two-room dwelling that was lit by a single light in each room. The city bought the house and surrounding property in 1957, and when you set foot on the ground that young Presley walked, you feel the dreams and ambition of wanting a better life.
In addition to the house, there is a Presley Museum, a Memorial Chapel where his Grammy-winning Gospel music can be heard, and, in what might be the most amazing addition to the property, visitors can step inside the local Assembly of God Church where Elvis spent his formative years. The building was moved to the property in 2007, and one can instantly feel the love and passion that the singer developed for both the Gospel – and Gospel Music.
In addition to the Presley home, you can also take the Elvis Presley Driving Tour – which consists of the schools that Presley attended as a child, as well as Johnnie’s Drive-In, the local hamburger restaurant where Presley and his buddies would eat at after school. To this day, the eatery – celebrating its’ 70th anniversary – still has car hops! (And, try the burgers! You’ll be glad you did!) One can also set foot inside Tupelo Hardware, where Gladys purchased a guitar for her son. Initially, he wanted a shotgun, but the protective mother was able to convince him that a guitar would be something he would enjoy – and she turned out to be right.
The area is filled with several other attractions that are worth your time, particularly the Tupelo Automobile Museum – a 120,000 foot complex filled with hundreds of cars that run the gamut from the late 1880s to the 1990s. The collection, which is valued at over $6 million, also includes many NASCAR vehicles, as well as cars that have once belonged to celebrities. Yes, Elvis Presley is represented in the Museum, with a Lincoln once owned by the singer being among the collection. Even if you aren’t necessarily a car buff, you will definitely be entertained by this unique look back in time.
For more information about Tupelo, go to www.Tupelo.net.
Next week, we stay in the state of Mississippi for a trip to Clarksdale, where the Blues is always loud and proud!