Sixty years ago, Elvis Presley was a 20-year-old rockabilly singer performing in small-town auditoriums throughout the south. He was often featured at the Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport’s answer to the Grand Ole Opry, and Texarkana—75 miles north—was a frequent showplace for Hayride stars.
Elvis sang (and gyrated) at the Texarkana, Arkansas, Municipal Auditorium at least twice in 1954 and four times in 1955, as well as in tiny nearby towns like New Boston and DeKalb, Texas. Col. Tom Parker, his legendary agent, got wind of him after he brought down the house at DeKalb in January 1955. The next month, on Feb. 25, Parker was in the audience when Elvis performed in Texarkana. The rest is history. Elvis left Sun Records and signed with RCA that November. His first national TV exposure was with the Dorsey Brothers in January 1956, followed that September by his unforgettable performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Meanwhile, as a 14-year-old junior high student, I was oblivious to weekend concerts at the auditorium; but I well remember the first time I heard of Elvis. Jane—a cute, blonde majorette—arrived at a Saturday morning summer band practice with her forearm covered with clear nail polish. Elvis had autographed her arm at the concert the night before, and she wanted to preserve his signature as long as possible. I never knew there was a photo of her with Elvis until this was posted on her Facebook page recently. Perhaps she heard him more than once, but I am guessing that this photo was taken at his September 2, 1955, Texarkana concert. If my memory is correct, then I first heard of Elvis 60 years ago today.
All year, stories circulated about Elvis—sightings of his pink Cadillac in nearby Fouke and at Lee’s Drive-Inn and the Park Plaza Motel, rumors of a romance with a girl who worked at the local radio station.
We were doing the bop to “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “That’s All Right, Mama” before the rest of the country knew of Elvis’ existence. The boys grew sideburns and slicked their hair back into duck tails. They donned black chinos and pink shirts; and if they could carry a tune and hold a guitar, they sang with small combos at school talent shows and dances in the gym. Little did we know that our hometown would become a footnote in rock-and-roll history.
Feedback: Share your memories of Elvis Presley, and–if you were in Texarkana then–add to or correct my story.