Elvis Week brings the ‘King of Rock ’n Roll’ back to life
by Bettie Marlowe Banner Staff Writer and William Wright Lifestyles Editor
Aug 17, 2014 | 1084 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Elvis Week
Elvis impersonator Helmut Lotti, from Belgium, above, posed with Frank and Corene Smith on their front porch — where Elvis practiced playing the guitar with Smith.
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After thousands of fans gathered for Elvis Week and held the annual Candlelight Vigil at Graceland on Saturday, along with the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis, one might think “Elvis has left the building.”

Not so. All things Elvis continue to turn up around Elvis Week and after, including a new multimedia tablet tour of the home-turned-museum using iPads and iBeacon technology, narrated by actor John Stamos.

Although there have been many tributes to the King of Rock ’n Roll over the years, Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires, the group who worked with Elvis 13 years, gave a fitting tribute that summed up the life of Elvis. Stoker said, “His life began in the most humble surrounds, but Elvis had that great advantage of growing up in a family full of love for each other.” He ended the tribute with: “For him it was a long hard road from ‘Tupelo to Graceland.’ He seldom found contentment for himself, but made millions happy with his music.”

Elvis Presley’s last Cadillac was among 72 items auctioned on Aug. 14 at Graceland during Elvis Week. The items are being offered from third-party collectors. Among the items being auctioned are Presley’s signature on a library card; a 1976 Cadillac Seville that Graceland says is the last one Presley purchased for his personal use; Presley’s copy of the original script for his first movie, “Love Me Tender”; a 1969 Las Vegas show agreement; a 1975 Martin D-28 guitar; and a gemstone, diamond and gold lion mask pendant and chain worn by Presley when he met President Richard Nixon at the White House.

And now, plans are in the making for the building of a hotel at Graceland.

In 2003, as Frank Smith of Tupelo, Mississippi, watched the tribute to the late Elvis Presley on TV on what would have been Elvis’ 68th birthday, he remembered the little boy that used to run around the neighborhood.

“I listened to his voice as he sang and I thought, ‘He has a gift from God,’” Smith said. “It was unbelievable that I was that boy’s pastor.”

Vernon and Gladys Presley lived a couple of doors down the street from Corene Smith’s mother, Amelia Randall, when Elvis was born. Friends of the family were concerned because their first child had died, and they wanted this little boy to live and be all right. The Presleys started coming to church after that and Randall later was to be Elvis’ Sunday school teacher.

Just a young couple, Smith and his wife Corene, — he was 20 and she was 18 — had just started serving at the East Tupelo Assembly of God Church where the Presleys were members. The Smiths had only been married three years. Smith had been preaching five years. And he played the guitar and sang — inspiration for a little boy who loved music.

“Elvis was a boy — just a boy like any others of his age.”

He liked everyone and was friends with other young people — “especially the girls,” Smith remembered. One of the girls was Madelyn Morgan. As teenagers, the two even wrote out a marriage license.

“I think they got a real license — probably his parents’ — and wrote in their names,” Mrs. Smith recalls.

One cold Sunday after morning church service, Elvis and Madelyn went with the Smiths and some other church people to lunch. After lunch, they all went back to the Smiths and made pictures since they all still had on their “church-going clothes.” Mrs. Smith’s sister and Madelyn took turns having their photos made with Elvis out in the yard. The cold was evidenced by the icicles hanging from the eaves.

Elvis was not yet in his teens when he bought his first guitar and a book to teach him to play. The book showed him where to put his fingers on the frets and Smith would play to show Elvis how to change chords. Several time he would go to the Presley’s home to show him how to chord and do runs. But from the first, he said, Elvis didn’t copy anyone.

Although Elvis probably got inspiration from Smith, the preacher said, “I did not teach him to play — he did it his way. All of his songs and any body movements were ‘him,’ and he put himself in it and did it his way.”

Many people, Smith said, have copied Elvis’ songs, along with his gyrations and other moves. Many who have written about him, he confided, said Elvis got his way of singing and physical movements from the church and Southern style.

“But Elvis didn’t copy any person or personality,” Smith said. “The song he sang on his last appearance in Minneapolis told it the way it was,” he added, “— ‘I Did It My Way.”

Anyway, Smith said, Elvis didn’t sing in the church choir. He just wanted to play the guitar, he said, and he played that in church services. Of course, they’d get together and sing at home a lot. After all, Smith was only a few years older than Elvis and both loved playing the guitar.

And then there was the radio program every Saturday for which they were invited to play and sing. Smith sang the song, “Old Shep,” he had learned from listening to the Grand Ole Opry, and Elvis picked it up and made it his song. That was about the time talent scouts discovered the young guitar picker.

The Presleys moved to Memphis and Elvis’ career in music took off. Smith said he never did get to Memphis to see Elvis, but his dad came by to see Smith when he was in town.

People came from all over the world to see a little bit of Elvis’ world, Smith said. And since Elvis told (to a writer for Look magazine) how Smith had helped him learn to play the guitar, many of the Tupelo visitors ended up on Smith’s front porch. Videos have even been made in their living room and they have been included in countless books and stories about this “boy who had a gift from God.”

Smith told about becoming acquainted with a family from Russia because the woman had heard Elvis sing and “just liked his voice.” In Russia the family had been atheists and began attending underground services of Christians. The connection was when they came to the United States, they went to the Assembly of God Church in Florida, where Elvis’ stepbrother was in a revival and he played one of Elvis’ songs. From there, they wanted to visit Tupelo and meet Elvis’s pastor and neighbors. They called back to be sure to say “thank you for sending missionaries to Russia so we could know the Lord.”

Smith said before Elvis died, he really was impressed to visit him and talk to him, to ask him if he were all right with God.

But he didn’t.

Then one day, he picked up the paper with the headline, “The King is dead.”

“How I regret that ... ,” he said.

“It seems like he came and went so soon.”

Editor’s note: Corene Smith died a few years ago and Frank Smith currently resides in an assisted living facility in Mississippi.