Elvis Presley Travel Landmark in Memphis: Humes High School

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Elvis Presley senior year photo, 1953

The high school that helped shape Elvis Presley into a future rock and roll star still stands in Memphis, Tennessee. The most famous alumnus of Humes High School entered as an eighth-grader in 1948. Presley graduated from Humes on June 3, 1953.

Fans may be surprised to hear that Elvis Presley was an unpopular outcast in high school who was looked down on for having unusually long hair and dressing in a flamboyant style. But that changed a few months before graduation when Elvis performed in the annual high school talent show in April 1953.

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“I wasn’t popular in school. I wasn’t dating anybody at that school,” Presley recalled.  “I flunked music [class]… And then they entered me in this talent show, and I came out and did my two songs. When I came on stage, I heard people rumbling and whispering because nobody knew I even sang, really. It was amazing how popular I became in school after that.”

 

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Program from Humes HS Talent Show, April 1953

Presley sang the country song “Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me” first while playing his guitar. He received such a good amount of applause that he sang the popular tune “Till I Waltz Again With You,” by Teresa Brewer as an encore. Even in high school, Elvis was exhibiting his broad range of musical tastes and influences which would help him stand out in the music business.

The Senior Class President, George Klein, who later became one of Presley’s best friends, remembered how surprised he was at how his fellow students reacted to Presley’s performance.
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“I was sitting in the front row and three football players were sitting next to me,” George Klein explained. “They had given Elvis a pretty tough time [in the past]. When they had announced that Elvis had won the talent show, they [the football players] stood up on their chairs and were screaming, hollering and applauding for him.”
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As George Klein explained, things really turned around for Elvis, especially knowing how he had been treated by certain students before. Previously, Elvis almost got attacked in the boys’ bathroom for his pompadour hairstyle. One day in the boys’ bathroom, Elvis got cornered by a bunch of tough guys who threatened to cut off his hair.
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Fellow classmate, Red West, happened to walk in the bathroom at that time and stuck up for Elvis, saying if they wanted to cut Presley’s hair, they’d have to cut his hair first – and that was the end of that. Afterward, Elvis and Red West became friends and West worked as one of Presley’s bodyguards throughout his career, as well as writing several songs for Elvis.
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HumesHS-markerIn August 2013, Elvis, Red West and George Klein were all honored as respected alumni in the historical marker which was placed in front of Humes. The marker, titled “Humes High School: Alma Mater of Elvis Presley”, includes a nod to Presley’s flamboyant style reading: “His slick-backed hair and unusual style of dress were tolerated by Principal Thomas C. Brindley.”
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The large Humes auditorium, which includes balcony seating, is now called the Elvis A. Presley auditorium, and is still in use to the present day. In 2004, the school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for “its significance in education to Memphis, Tennessee and its Collegiate Gothic design.” Currently, Humes operates as a charter school and is not currently open for tours.
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