Elvis Presley’s sensational rise to stardom in the 1950s is often remembered through the lens of massive concert crowds, millions of record sales, chart-topping hits, and widespread media coverage. However, the truth is that Presley’s fame was built from the ground up, with battles fought in local radio stations, newspapers, record stores, and schools. Let’s dive into how the teenagers of Spokane, a medium-sized city in Washington State, perceived Elvis Presley in 1957.
The Local Impact of Elvis Presley
In the 1950s, Elvis Presley’s music was received with varying degrees of acceptance across different regions. In conservative areas, both adults and teenagers often rejected his style, while the more liberal cities embraced him wholeheartedly. Spokane, situated on the eastern edge of Washington State, had its own unique experiences with Presley’s music and persona.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Takes Hold in Spokane
During this time, the primary rock ‘n’ roll radio station in Spokane was KNEW. The station’s disc jockeys became local celebrities and compiled a weekly top 40 list based on song requests from teenagers who attended their sponsored dance parties. Lewis and Clark High School and North Central High School were two major institutions in Spokane with students from diverse backgrounds.
Spokane’s Top Ten Songs
In a column called “Platter Chatter by Betty” published in the North Central High School newspaper, Spokane’s top ten songs, as compiled by KNEW, were listed every week. In early 1957, Tab Hunter’s “Young Love” topped the list, followed by songs from Guy Mitchell and Pat Boone. Elvis had two songs on the list: “Love Me Tender” at #5 and “Too Much” at #10. These rankings mirrored the national trend, demonstrating Spokane teens’ affinity for Presley’s ballads.
The Rise of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Spokane
As spring approached, Betty began to promote rock records like LaVerne Baker’s “Jim Dandy” and Eddie Cochran’s “Sittin’ in the Balcony” in her column. By March, she mentioned Presley’s new record, “Shook Up,” saying that it had the potential to be a hit. Two weeks later, “All Shook Up” climbed to #2 on the local chart and reached the top of the national chart.
Elvis’s Impact in Spokane
Elvis’s popularity in Spokane was further solidified by the release of his film, “Loving You.” Dorothy Powers, a columnist from the Spokesman-Review, witnessed teenagers lining up around the block to watch the movie. In an interview, young fans expressed their love for Elvis, while Powers remained unimpressed. Nevertheless, Elvis’s dominance continued on KNEW’s top ten songs list, leading up to his monumental performance in Spokane’s Memorial Stadium in August 1957.
The Enduring Popularity
Elvis’s arrival in Spokane on a train and the subsequent press conference further endeared him to his fans. His songs continued to dominate the local charts, even surpassing Ricky Nelson. Despite some dissenting opinions, Elvis’s hits, like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Baby, I Don’t Care,” remained popular in Spokane throughout the year.
Elvis Presley’s journey to fame was undoubtedly built on the collective support of his fans, including the teenagers of Spokane. His music and performances left an indelible mark on the city and contributed to the broader cultural phenomenon known as Presleymania.