Musician Biographies » Elvis Presley » Elvis's Childhood - Understanding The Political Climate, Early Musical Influences: Hillbilly, Gospel, And The Blues, The Birthday Present

Elvis's Childhood - The Move To Memphis

courts gladys sing aunt

“We were broke, man, broke, and we left Tupelo overnight,” Elvis said in an interview years later. Memphis was the biggest city in Tennessee at that time. At first, the Presleys could only afford to live in one room in a shabby house. They had to share a bathroom with other families, and there was no kitchen; Gladys cooked the family's meals on a hot plate. After Vernon and Gladys found work, they moved to an apartment in the Lauderdale Courts. Across from the Courts was Shake Rag, a primarily black housing community that was often the site of musical jam sessions.

Gladys asked Jessie Lee Denson, who was two years older than Elvis and the son of the Presleys' preacher, to give her son guitar lessons. The two boys met in the laundry room at the Courts, the only place where they could get some privacy.

Elvis also sang with some boys who performed regularly outside the Courts in the evening, entertaining the neighbors. He would sing often, but his Aunt Lillian remembers Elvis asking her to put out the lights before he would sing at his cousin Bobbie's birthday party. “We had to put out the lights before he'd sing … He got way over yonder in the corner—that's just how shy he was,” his aunt said.

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