Rep. Nick J. Rahall
This Christmas season throughout shopping malls, over radio stations, on millions of smart phones and in countless homes we will be listening to the familiar refrain of Elvis Presley singing Blue Christmas. In fact, there aren’t many celebrations, from the most reverent to the most whimsical, where the King of Rock and Roll would not fit the bill. It’s time this national icon received his due recognition.
That’s why I am working to enact a measure in the Congress to recognize Mr. Presley’s many accomplishments and contributions. This resolution that will hopefully be considered soon by the U.S. House of Representatives would express support for annually designating Jan. 8, his birthday, as Elvis Presley Day.
As the resolution’s sponsor and my colleague, Larry Kissell (D-N.C. 8th) has said, “The story of Elvis is, in part, the story of the American Dream: Answering the call of our nation and joining our military; lifting himself up from poverty to become a successful entertainer, followed by billions across the globe; giving back to the nation through charity benefits and free concerts.”
Born in Tupelo, Miss., on Jan. 8, 1935, Elvis’s singing career began in 1954 with the now legendary Sun Records label in Memphis, Tenn.
Throughout his all too short career, Elvis recorded more than 750 songs. His records sales have topped more than a billion with worldwide distribution. He was featured in the first worldwide television broadcast, Aloha from Hawaii, which was eventually seen by more than a billion people. In all, he received 14 Grammy nominations and three awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36.
He died at his Memphis home, Graceland, on Aug. 16, 1977, yet his legacy only continues to grow. Graceland now welcomes more than 600,000 visitors each year, rivaling the White House as one of America’s most famous homes. In 2006, Interior Secretary Gail Norton designated Graceland as a National Historic Landmark.
According to the National Archives, the most requested item from the Archives is a photograph of Elvis shaking hands with President Nixon during a visit to the White House. And in 1993, the United States Postal Service issued a first class stamp featuring an image of Elvis Presley which became the most popular stamp in United States history.
Elvis Presley remains one of America’s best and most influential cultural ambassadors of all time. His broad interest in all manner and style of song and entertainment has seldom been rivaled. As the resolution points out, “whereas in a time when the trade deficits of the United States continue to grow, the sustained export of American music and culture is a uniquely American product that can never be replaced by foreign competitors.”
His act was bigger than life. According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, “Elvis Presley visited Charleston in 1975; his entourage occupied 63 rooms including the penthouse suite.” Less than two years later, he planned to hold a concert in Huntington. Sadly, Elvis passed from us before he could make that appearance, but many in our state still hold on to their cherished tickets for that concert.
But big business, fame and money, all three put aside, it was Elvis’s ability to connect with his audience that will forever reign in the court of public opinion. And in the end, when the bright lights had been dimmed and the throngs returned safely home, those closest to him have relished telling stories of the true Elvis.
They’ve told of a soul who never seemed to tire of gathering round a piano with a few dear friends, like the late gospel quartet bass singer J.D. Sumner who toured with Elvis, to raise a joyous harmony toward Heaven with an endless stream of the old familiar hymns.
For those of us who still enjoy his gospel and other unique renditions, Christmas can’t ever be too blue listening to the one and only Elvis.
(Rahall represents West Virginia’s 3rd District.)