StMU Research Scholars

Childhood of the King of Rock n’ Roll: Elvis Presley, Part I

Everyone has a favorite musician, and they could probably name their favorite songs, the places and dates of when they saw them, but if asked, would they be able to talk about their favorite artist before they were famous? Could they discuss their favorite musician’s childhood, such as where they were from, when they first became interested in music, and if they were even good in the beginning?

Elvis on his Harley on January 2, 1956. By
Elvis on his Harley on January 2, 1956 | Courtesy of

Before he would be known as the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley led a simple life. His mother, Gladys Presley, was carrying twins, Jesse Garon and Elvis Aron; both were delivered on January 8, 1935; Jesse Garon would be pronounced as a stillborn.1 Although Elvis did not have a chance to actually meet his brother, he would grow up visiting his brother’s grave; he would always refer to Jesse as his twin.2 Gladys believed that even though Jesse Garon did not survive, Elvis would always carry his brother with him. Gladys believed that Elvis carried the strength of both babies, but without Jesse Garon, Elvis always felt he was missing half of himself.3 People that lived around them noticed that Elvis seemed unusually close to his mother.4 Gladys, only having one child, hovered over Elvis as he was growing up; because of that, Elvis would always be by his mother’s side.

It was very hard for the family to lose Jesse Garon at birth, but they made the best of it, and loved Elvis fiercely. Elvis’s father, Vernon, and his mother loved him very much and wanted to protect him from everything, but showed restraint in allowing him be his own person. After losing Jesse, the family was heartbroken, but leaned on one another for strength. They knew that family would always be there for them if they needed help and the Presleys kept their little family of three close. With the tragedy of knowing that someone was missing in their family, Elvis made sure that he was there for the both of them, always promising that he would do whatever he could for his parents.

Elvis started going to school, and although he was not the brightest student, he did his best in his classes and followed the rules. He was always on his best behavior when at school, and was polite to those around him. Elvis was shy and tried to get along with his classmates, trying out for football and ROTC, getting out of his shell.5 Elvis was not good with attention on him in his early life; he was a loner. He was always alone, and found himself more at ease being around teachers than his fellow classmates.6

Elvis Presley on stage on January, 28, 1956. | Credit to CBS
Elvis Presley on stage on January, 28, 1956. | Credit to CBS

Elvis started showing interest in music at a young age, but only truly did something with music when he was older. When he was two, Elvis attended a church sermon with his mother and upon hearing the choir sing Shake Rag, a rhythm-and-blues song; he ran from her lap to join the choir.7

His love for music was instinctual; he drank it in, allowing it to flow through his veins like a drug; he had a channel stuck in his head hooked up to the divine gods of music.8

He was passionate even at a young age and to be this passionate, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. The sounds he would hear around him affected him to make his sound, to find what he did or did not like.

Elvis soaked up all the musical sounds around him, the train whistle, the white country singers, the poplar sound on the radio, the jamboree performers at the courthouse, the gospel music at his church, the flux of sounds in Shake Rag, the gospel at the African American churches and the tent revivals.9

Wherever he went, he always found a sound that intrigued him. The hold music had on him would prove to be the most powerful bond he had ever felt in his life.

Continue to Part II

  1. Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (Little, Brown & Company, 1994), 13.
  2. Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, 13.
  3. Bobbie Ann Mason, Elvis Presley (A Lipper/ Viking Book, 2003), 11.
  4. Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, 13.
  5. Glen Jeansonne, David Luhrssen, and Dan Sokolovic, Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times (Praeger, 2011), 22.
  6. Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, 35.
  7. Mason, Elvis Presley, 16.
  8. Mason, Elvis Presley, 16.
  9. Mason, Elvis Presley, 17.

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75 Responses

  1. I am by no means an Elvis fan. Not because I don’t like him, but because his music isn’t hard enough for me; however, it cannot be understated the massive amount of respect I have for the King. It’s amazing that a man that considered himself such a loner could go on to be one of the most influential musicians of all time.

    Without Elvis Presley, there is no Rock N Roll.

  2. This is a very well done article, Vanessa. I am a huge fan of Elvis Presley and his music, but I did not know much about his early childhood. This passage, however, definitely helped me learn a lot about him that I did not know before. I also did not realize that Elvis lived a rather normal life before his rise to fame, minus the tragedy of losing his brother at birth. If I had to critique anything, it is that I wish you added a little more detail. Otherwise, great job.

  3. I came across this article because I always knew Elvis as the king of rock and I wanted to see what else I can learn about him. I found out that Elvis had a younger brother which I found interesting. I had no sense of knowledge of Elvis’ younger life and childhood. This article helped me learn about Elvis’s personal life than music and the hardships he faced.

  4. This article was enlightening. I had no clue that Elvis Presley had a twin brother. Throughout the article, I kept wondering how different his life would have been if he grew up with a brother beside him. That is so heartbreaking. His early life was very interesting. He must have had a difficult time trying to find himself due to his mother’s hovering, but luckily he found his passion. He truly changed the world with his music and that was his legacy. His brother would have been proud.

  5. I had never been very curious to know about Elvis Presley; however, this article caught my attention. I found his early life quite interesting, I was totally unaware that Elvis had a brother who died when he was born, this is really tragic and very sad. However, Elvis will always be remembered as the King of Rock n’ Roll, and thanks to him, today we can enjoy very good music based on the foundations of his legacy.

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