On yesterday’s post, we asked if you could guess the Mystery Man pictured with Bentley. It seems that the famous stance of Elvis Presley is difficult to disguise. Over the weekend, we took our Hound Dog Bentley to visit the King of Rock ‘n Roll’s statue at the building where it all began for the unknown singer from Tupelo. This is the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium on the renamed Elvis Presley Ave.
Built in the 1920’s it is considered the finest example of Art Deco in the entire state of Louisiana. Designed by architect Samuel Weiner, it was dedicated to the Soldiers of the Great War on Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day) November 11, 1929. It has played host to the military serving as barracks and housing the early aircraft warning system known as RADAR.
On April 3, 1948 a new program called “The Louisiana Hayride” began showcasing singers, songwriters, and performers in the auditorium. It became so popular with rising stars like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, and local Blues Legend Huddy “Leadbelly” Ledbetter that it earned the nickname “The Cradle of the Stars.”
It was October 16, 1954, the entire music world changed when a 19-year old boy nicknamed “The Hillbilly Cat” took the stage. He sang, “That’s Alright Mama” to an audience that paid 60 cents for adults and 30 cents for children. The Hayride emcee, Frank Page introduced Elvis to the crowd telling them “Just a few weeks ago a young man from Memphis, Tennessee, recorded a song on the Sun label and, in just a matter of weeks, that record has sky-rocketed right up the charts. It's really doing well all over the country. He is only nineteen years old. He has a new, distinctive style. Elvis Presley. Let's give him a nice hand.”
Standing under the station call letters KWKH, a Louisiana Hayride banner, and
a Lucky Strike cigarette sign, the first show was considered flat. Elvis was sporting a pink jacket, black shirt, a colorful tie with white pants, and two-tone shoes, but his clothes were the liveliest part of the set. His debut at the Grand Ole Opry a few weeks before was also considered flat. He met with Sam Phillips, Sun Records music producer, during intermission. Mr. Phillips urged Elvis to be himself, to perform his own kind of show and assured him that all he could was fail, which he was destined to do if he didn’t loosen up some. When Elvis returned to the stage, a younger crowd was ready for excitement. This time when he began “That’s Alright Mama” he included his famous gyrating hip action. The crowd loved it and the Louisiana Hayride had given birth to its biggest star.
|Photo © Nick Gulli courtesy JohnGriswold.com|
A few weeks later on November 6th, Elvis signed a contract to appear on the Louisiana Hayride every Saturday for a year. His parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley had to travel to Shreveport to witness the signing because Elvis at 19, he was underage. His salary was $18 per performance!
|We HAD to buy these for this post. Oh, the sacrifices of blogging!|
He made the only commercial of his career for Southern Maid donuts at this same time. These delicious treats are one of the reasons Elvis became a renowned donut lover, especially the jelly-filled. I can attest to the fact that they are the best tasting donut ever. When we visit my mom in N.Y.C., a box is always in our carry-on luggage for her. If you’ve ever been to the Big Apple, you know donuts are available on almost every corner, but none compare to these.
Elvis toured over a half a million miles that year, but on Saturday nights, he was on the stage of the Shreveport Municipal auditorium. Colonel Tom Parker “discovered” him after eighteen months. At the time, he was performing in front of 2,000 fans and The Hayride was broadcast nationally on CBS. The Colonel bought out his contract for $10,000 with the condition that he performed one more concert. Horace Lee Logan, the founder and producer of The Hayride scheduled Elvis’ last performance under contract for December 15, 1956.
The extreme popularity of the “King of Rock ‘n Roll” forced the event to move from the Municipal Auditorium to the State Fairgrounds Youth Building. The concert was jam-packed with screaming teens. There were several acts performing, but when Elvis finished, the crowds headed for the exit in hopes of seeing him. That is when Horace Logan took the microphone to urge the audience back to their seats "Young People, please take your seats," adding the immortal phrase; “Elvis has left the building.”
The statue was unveiled in October 2004 on the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ appearance. The sixty-thousand dollar statue is 7’ 6” and weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. The bronze Elvis by former Shreveport artist Eric Kaposta was recently moved while the Municipal auditorium underwent a 5.3 million dollars renovation. He was returned in all of his glory over the summer along with a statue of *James Burton. The unveiling of the statues in their new locations coincided with the huge James Burton International Guitar Festival on August 23rd.
|"What do you mean that I ain't nuthin' but a Hound Dog?"|
When you grow-up in a city, it is easy to overlook some of the incredible history that has taken place in your own backyard. I’m not sure how many events that I’ve attended over my lifetime at the Municipal auditorium. I did see comedian George Carlin perform there in the late 70’s. He actually began his professional career in radio at station KJOE in Shreveport in July 1956. He was also 19 years old at the time and serving in the USAF at Barksdale. He had some hilarious jokes about his memories of our city.
Over the past few years, the auditorium has gained notoriety as being haunted. There are haunted tours along with the regular tours that are open to the public. The Syfy television show Ghost Hunters filmed an episode about the paranormal activity that supposedly takes place in the intricately designed building. We spoke with Ty Harvey, the security manager while we were there. He was extremely nice and shared his knowledge and admiration of this beautiful building. The ghosts of past legends haven’t spooked him, so maybe we will take the tour for ourselves soon. Not on Halloween though…just in case!
*We will cover the amazing James Burton in a later post.
To see the inside of this gorgeous building, click here for a local news segment.