Tupelo, MS's Tribute to Elvis Presley

Tupelo, MS residents still honor Elvis through public art, the Elvis museum, festivals, and more.

On Monday, September 26, 2011 - 16:53
Tupelo, MS

He may have found a new place to dwell, but Elvis Presley’s presence in his hometown of Tupelo is felt in more places than ever.

Elvis Presley Boulevard runs through town, and Presley Heights is a neighborhood of homes and businesses. People relax at Presley Lake, and Tupelo sports teams call themselves the Hound Dogs. A local flower business advertises that “nothing says love me tender” like its bouquets.

“Over the years the people of Tupelo have become more and more proud of the fact that we have this legacy, that our city played an important part in Elvis’ life,” says Debbie Brangenberg of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association.

Tupelo’s tribute to Elvis began in the late 1950s with the establishment of the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum, and now includes an Elvis driving tour, a major annual festival and more.

Elvis Concert Funded Museum

The Birthplace and Museum was established when Elvis donated the proceeds from a 1956 concert in his hometown. Since then, the site has added a bronze statue of Elvis as a child, a fountain that illustrates his journey from poverty to international fame, and a chapel. In June 2012, a 10,000-square-foot addition will open, featuring a theater, cafe and reception space, Dick Guyton, executive director, says.

“Our charge is to keep this property in the memory of the little boy Elvis, not the entertainer,” Guyton says. “We honor his humble beginnings and that’s what the fans who visit appreciate. Here you can see that Elvis Presley came from nothing and yet became the most important entertainer in the world.”

An Elvis Presley Discovery Driving Tour includes stops at the schools Elvis attended and Tupelo Hardware, where Gladys Presley took her son to buy his first guitar. Other stops include Johnnie’s Drive-in and the Lyric Theatre, both frequented by the young Elvis.

Thousands of visitors from around the world flock to Tupelo each June for the Elvis Festival, and in May the Blue Suede Cruise brings car enthusiasts to see antique, classic and hot rod automobiles.

Public Art Honors the King

An artistic tribute to the King can be seen on Main Street, where 15 Elvis-themed guitar sculptures are displayed. The Elaine Dundy and Roy Turner Endowment for the Arts funded the six-foot metal guitars, which were designed and painted by each of the public schools and unveiled in January 2010. Later this fall, the second installment of 15 guitar sculptures will be added.

Brangenberg says the sculptures emphasize an important lesson.

“I think understanding that someone like Elvis came from Tupelo builds a lot of pride with children in our schools, and they can see something they participated in on public display,” she says. “It’s a great project.”

The endowment was created with a $600,000 donation from Dundy, who came to Tupelo in 1981 to research and write her book, Elvis & Gladys, and was assisted by Tupelo resident Roy Turner. The endowment also installed a new silver screen in the Lyric Theatre, where Elvis is rumored to have had his first kiss in the balcony.

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