THE KING OF SOWASHEE

October 30, 2010 § 2 Comments

I have to confess to my second tour this weekend of that mystical shrine of tackiness, Graceland in Memphis, home of Elvis Presley and spiritual Mecca for his adherents.  We took some Louisiana relatives who had never been there.

It got me thinking about what I had heard for years — that Elvis had performed in Meridian.

What I had been told was that the King had been in Meridian years ago to perform at the fair and calf scramble before he became famous.  I even heard that there were photos.  So I dug around on the internet, and actually found a couple of photos.  The photos are both dated May 26, 1955, which would predate Elvis’s 1956 appearances on the Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan shows, the gigs that propelled him into national attention.  The pictures show him in his more princely days, before he was anointed king.  

The photo below shows Elvis and Jimmy Snow riding on a Cadillac in the parade for the 1955 Fair in Meridian.  Anybody recognize that building?  It’s interesting to me that the crowd appears more interested in whomever is coming up behind Presley and Snow; of course, Elvis back then was merely a musical act from Memphis who was mostly known for his performances on the Louisiana Hayride.  Those folks on the parade route had no clue then that they were seeing a future international superstar.  Jimmy Snow, incidentally, was the son of country music legend Hank Snow, and deveoped his own career eventually performing on the Grand Ole Opry before becoming a minister in Tennessee.

The other photo, below, shows Elvis with Bill Black and Jimmy Snow on the same Cadillac. 

Nobody I know in Meridian has developed any oral history about this or any clearcut description of the event. 

Here’s an interesting wrinkle:  a Wikipedia article on Elvis gives a different time frame …

“The audience response at Presley’s live shows became increasingly fevered. Moore recalled, “He’d start out, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog,’ and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time.”  At the two concerts he performed in September at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, 50 National Guardsmen were added to the police security to prevent crowd trouble.”

According to the article, this was in 1956, after Presley had appeared on both Milton Berle’s and Ed Sullivan’s tv shows and created a national sensation.  Of course, the reference to the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair and Dairy Show is Meridian’s own and was back then.  Not enough info for me to resolve the discrepancy in dates beyond doubt.  My best guess is that the source for the Wikipedia info, who was part of Elvis’s entourage back then, may be a little confused as to the timing. I would go with the dates of the photos for two reasons:  first, that the dates of the pictures are part of their provenance; and second, after the national tv appearances, the crowd in the parade picture would have been far more focused on Elvis.

Steve Labiche did a little more research and found that the Cadillac had been purchased by Presley in Florida, and he had the dealer paint “ELVIS” on the door. 

NOTE: the mystery of the building above with the three arches is solved here.

It’s an interesting little tidbit of Meridian history.

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