On This Day: Elvis Presley Joins the Army

Elvis Presley poses at the Army barracks area in Friedberg, Germany, 1958. 

March 24, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff

Elvis Presley, the “undisputed King of Rock and Roll,” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, began his career in 1954 and became a national sensation in 1956 with the release of “Heartbreak Hotel.” He went on to captivate audiences with his unique musical style, provocative hip gyrations and electric personality, producing such hits as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

Presley was drafted into the United States Army in December 1957; on March 24, 1958, he entered the Army at the Memphis draft board. Presley was filmed as he was given an Army haircut and fitted for his uniform.

Serving as a member of the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, Presley was stationed in Germany from Oct. 1, 1958, to March 2, 1960. He was released from active duty on March 5 and honorably discharged from the Army Reserve four years later.

Presley resumed his musical career in 1960, but he found a rock n’ roll scene that had been transformed by the British Invasion.

“Presley returned from the Army to find that rock ‘n’ roll tastes had changed dramatically in his absence,” wrote Larry Rohter and Tom Zito in The Washington Post. “Presley himself underwent a drastic change of style, eschewing his trademark sideburns and hip-shaking music in favor of romantic, dramatic ballads.”

Video: Elvis Joining the Army

newsreel from March 25, 1958, depicts Presley being sworn in as a private at the Memphis Draft Board. “Elvis Presley no longer has that rock and roll beat,” says the narrator. “The tempo is hup, two, three, four for Private Presley.”

Biography: Elvis “The King” Presley

Elvis Aaron Presley was born Jan. 8, 1935, in a two-room house in Tupelo, Miss. Growing up, his “musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager,” according to his official site.

His career began in 1954 after arecording session at the Sun Studio in Memphis. Under the tutelage of Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, he released “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” creating “the blueprint for rock and roll,” says the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Presley’s musical career declined after his release from the Army, as he began devoting most of his time to making movies, including “Fun in Acapulco” and “Girls! Girls! Girls!” He stopped performing concerts and his popularity slowly waned.

He made a singing comeback in 1968 and toured the country throughout the 1970s, but he struggled with the demands of his taxing concert schedule. “By the beginning of 1977, when he turned 42, Elvis Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self. Hugely overweight, his mind dulled by the pharmacopoeia he daily ingested, he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts,” writes Tony Scherman in American Heritage.

Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, of a heart attack. He is regarded asone of the greatest musicians of all-time. U2 frontman Bono, writing for Rolling Stone, says, “In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock & roll: The highness—the gospel highs. The mud—the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It's all there with Elvis.” 

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