It was the year 1956 when Elvis Presley faced heavy criticism from the American press for his provocative stage performances. Most of these reviews were written by older reporters who did not understand the sudden surge in popularity of the young singer. However, amidst the nationwide criticism, there were a few newspapers that gave Elvis a fair chance. One of them was the Savannah Evening Press.
Elvis brought his electrifying show to Savannah on June 25, 1956, just three weeks after his controversial rendition of “Hound Dog” on The Milton Berle Show. The Evening Press reporter, Robert Epps, wrote an unbiased and captivating assessment of Elvis’ appearance. Let’s take a closer look at what he had to say.
Presley Looks Like Boxer After Singing
In his article, Epps refrained from passing judgment on Elvis and focused instead on his performance. He even avoided depicting Presley’s Southern drawl as the mumblings of an uneducated fool. Epps used the analogy of a boxer to highlight Elvis’ stage presence, along with several other comparisons.
According to Epps, Elvis worked up a frenzy among the teenage girls of Savannah and had to hide in a storeroom after the show to escape their eager clutches. He quotes Elvis saying, “That’s okay, I love ’em all. They’re a wonderful bunch of people. Savannah’s a wonderful town.”
The pandemonium outside the show was so intense that a team of police officers and firemen had to work tirelessly to control the crowd. Elvis, completely exhausted, looked like he needed all the protection he could get.
A Dynamic Performance
Epps describes Elvis as an atomic-powered entertainer with eyes that seemed to be farther away than they actually were. Elvis wore sport clothes without a necktie and had a towel around his neck to combat the perspiration. He resembled a film-hero middleweight after a tough fight, except for the absence of bruises – a testament to the excellent security measures taken to keep him safe on tour.
On stage, Elvis delivered his famous songs like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Blue Suede Shoes” with an energy that could rival a prizefight. The lyrics may have stirred the audience, but it was Elvis’ snake-like movements that brought about the deafening screams, resembling the atmosphere of a World Series game.
The arena was packed for both of Elvis’ performances, with teenagers sporting duck-tail haircuts and starry-eyed girls popping gum. Even those who came out of curiosity couldn’t help but get caught up in the hysteria. Epps remarks that one man present was there mainly to observe the crowd’s reaction, and he certainly wasn’t disappointed.
The Voice of Elvis’ Young Fans
Three days after Epps’ article, the Evening Press published a short piece by Diane (Dee) Sutlive, the teenage niece of one of the paper’s editors. It was unusual for newspapers at the time to present the viewpoint of Elvis’ young fans, who were accused of being negatively influenced by the singer. The fact that the Evening Press allowed a youth voice to be heard showcased their open-mindedness towards Elvis during a period when most adults were closed off to him.
In her article, Sutlive addresses the criticism surrounding Elvis, acknowledging that some people considered him illiterate or worse. However, she believes that being a teenager allows her to truly appreciate his uniqueness and style. She suggests that those who label Elvis as “sexy” are merely jealous. While she concedes that Elvis may be a passing fad, she urges everyone to accept him and enjoy his music while he’s here.
The Impact of Controversy
The Savannah Evening Press deserves recognition for giving Elvis Presley a fair chance when the majority of the national press was quick to criticize him. However, it is important to note that the newspapers that condemned him were actually responsible for propelling his phenomenal popularity in 1956. In the entertainment industry, controversy can often spark even greater interest and success.
In conclusion, Elvis’ performance in Savannah in 1956 left a lasting impression. The Savannah Evening Press played a unique role in providing an unbiased perspective on the young singer’s talent and appeal. Elvis Presley’s influence and legacy continue to captivate audiences around the world to this day.
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