The year was 1956, and Elvis Presley was on fire! After a much-needed break from his grueling schedule, Elvis embarked on a nine-day, seven-city tour of Florida that would go down in history as one of his most intense and exhausting tours yet. From Miami to Jacksonville, he took the state by storm, leaving a trail of excitement and controversy in his wake.
A Royal Arrival
When Elvis arrived in Florida, he was fresh off his vacation in Memphis and a visit to his girlfriend in Biloxi, Mississippi. The record charts were relatively quiet for him at the time, with his hit single “Heartbreak Hotel” slowly sliding down the charts. But all that was about to change. His new single, “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” exploded onto the scene, propelling him back into the spotlight.
Zigzagging Across the Sunshine State
Elvis kicked off his Florida tour with seven shows at Miami’s Olympia Theatre. From there, he zigzagged across the state, leaving audiences in awe and teenagers screaming for more. He performed two shows at the Armory in Tampa, followed by three shows at Lakeland’s Polk Theatre, and three more at the Florida Theatre in St. Petersburg. He then headed to Orlando for two shows at the Municipal Auditorium before making his way back to the east coast for two shows at the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach. The Florida tour reached its grand finale in Jacksonville with six shows over two days.
Elvis, The Talk of the State
Elvis’s presence in Florida was impossible to ignore. Everywhere you turned, you would hear his off-beat voice singing hits like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel” on the radio. Reports of near-riotous conditions at his shows were splashed across newspapers. Even TV Guide had scheduled an interview with him, but it had to be delayed due to the wild atmosphere in Tampa. Elvis had become the main topic of conversation among Floridians, both young and old.
According to writer Paul Wilder, Elvis’s influence on Florida was unparalleled. He listed the total attendance for each city: Miami – 14,000; Tampa – 10,000; St. Petersburg – 6,500; Lakeland – 5,500; Orlando – 7,000; Daytona Beach – 5,000; Jacksonville – 15,000. In total, approximately 63,000 screaming fans witnessed Elvis’s electrifying performances in Florida’s theaters and auditoriums. But that number doesn’t account for the countless others who caught glimpses of him outside venues or on city streets. Elvis’s impact on Florida was truly record-breaking.
Controversy and Craziness Followed Elvis Everywhere
Wherever Elvis went, excitement and controversy followed. In Tampa, security forces kept teenagers at bay while reporters, photographers, DJs, and friends-of-friends swarmed him backstage. In Jacksonville, a juvenile court judge attended the show, threatening to arrest Elvis if his performance crossed the line. But Elvis and his manager, Colonel Parker, denied making any changes to the show. Elvis was willing to face arrest and prove once and for all whether his performances were vulgar or obscene.
As if that wasn’t enough, Elvis faced another challenge in Jacksonville. A representative from the American Guild of Variety Artists demanded that Elvis join the Guild, or they would pull the band from the show. This ultimatum could have backfired, potentially sparking a rebellion from Elvis’s devoted teenage fans. The Guild would have risked losing their support and attendance at any future shows with other union bands.
Elvis, The Florida Heartthrob
Elvis was adored by fans of all ages, but he had a special charm when it came to his female fans. During press conferences, he would playfully tease young women who asked him questions, rewarding them with gentle pats on the shoulders, hugs, or even the occasional kiss. One lucky woman asked him if he was looking for an ideal girl, to which Elvis replied, “Yes, and I found her. You.” The girl was left speechless, her microphone almost dropping from her hands. Elvis had a way of making every woman interviewer feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
The Aftermath: Exhausted but Victorious
Elvis’s whirlwind tour of Florida came to an end on August 11th in Jacksonville. Despite the toll it took on his body, Elvis gave his all on stage, captivating audiences with his dynamic and energetic performances. Backstage, however, he appeared exhausted and drained, a stark contrast to his electrifying on-stage persona. Yet, even in his worn-out state, fans still screamed and worried over his condition.
After the Florida tour, Elvis didn’t have much time to rest. The very next day, he had both afternoon and evening shows in New Orleans before taking a break from touring. But the break didn’t last long. On August 16th, Elvis flew to Hollywood to make his first movie, solidifying his status as a true entertainment icon.
This epic tour of Florida showcased Elvis’s unrivaled talent, charisma, and ability to captivate audiences. His immense popularity and record-breaking performances solidified his place in music history. Elvis may have left Florida physically exhausted, but his legacy and influence would live on forever.
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All photos from the Olympia Theatre in Miami, Florida, August 3-4, 1956.