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Elvis in Louisville

Elvis Presley was the “King of Rock & Roll” … and he had roots right here in Louisville. In this Et Cetera, details on those family ties and more.

Elvis’ paternal grandfather, Jesse “J.D.” Presley, and step-grandmother, Vera, lived in south Louisville. Jesse worked at Louisville’s Pepsi-Cola bottling plant.

On December 8, 1955, Elvis performed at the Rialto Theater in Louisville’s downtown theater district. It was a private show for employees of the Phillip Morris Company; Elvis had third billing.

The next year appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show catapulted the young singer into stardom, and he headlined his next Louisville show.

On November 25, 1956, Elvis Presley performed at the Jefferson County Armory, now known as the historic Louisville Gardens. That performance was captured in a 12-minute silent police film.

During that Louisville engagement, Elvis visited Jesse Presley on his job at the Pepsi Company.

And although he was never close to his grandfather, Elvis presented Jesse and Vera with a new TV … and a brand new 1957 Ford Fairlane.

“The King” visited with his grandparents again in 1971, when he performed at Freedom Hall.

Grandpa Jesse also tried his hand at the music biz, recording several songs for Louisville’s tiny Legacy records … but the project was a bust.

Jesse D. Presley died in 1973; Vera Presley in 1981. They are interred at Louisville Memorial Gardens.

Other tidbits:

  • Jesse D. Presley was the namesake of Elvis’ twin brother, Jesse G. Presley, who died at birth.
  • J.D. Presley’s first wife, Minnie Mae Presley, never remarried and lived at Graceland until her death in 1980. Her pan-grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches were a favorite of Elvis. He affectionately called her “Grandma Dodger”.
  • During the 1940s and 50s, Jesse had spelled his surname ‘Pressley,” but after Elvis’ rise to stardom, Jesse dropped an ‘s’ in the spelling.
  • Vernon Presley, the first child of Jesse and Minnie Mae Presley, was Elvis’ father. Jesse and J.D. did not maintain close ties.
  • According to the COURIER-JOURNAL, the ’57 Ford Fairlane given from Elvis to his grandparents was purchased for only $2,500 in 1982. The authenticity of the car was verified by the dealership that sold the car to Presley in Louisville, Riggs Motors, Inc. The car sat in a Valley Station garage for years before being refurbished in 2006.
  • Jesse Presley signed-on to record a series of record albums with Legacy records, but only a single was ever released (‘Who’s That Kickin’ My Dog Around’/’The Billy Goat Song’ and ‘Swingin’ In The Orchard’). Jesse made his national television debut on CBS’ “I’ve Got A Secret” on July 9, 1958. He was 62 at the time. Mulitmedia is available here.
  • Elvis also appeared at Louisville’s Freedom Hall on June 26, 1974, July 23, 1976, and May 21, 1977. In addition, local oral history dictates that Elvis once held an impromptu performance at the Colonial Gardens in the city’s south end.
  • According to The Encyclopedia of Louisville, monument designer/cemetery director Charles E. “Cal” Riehm (1912-1991), a Louisvillian, turned down the opportunity to design the mausoleum for Elvis in Tennessee. Why? Because he had “never liked” Presley.
  • Jesse D. Presley is buried in the “Good Shepherd” section of Louisville Memorial Garden, West, alongside his second wife, Vera.
  • Known for his flashy, signature outfits, Elvis gave a bejeweled robe to the Louisville Lip, Muhammad Ali, before a fight in Las Vegas. The robe is currently on display at the Ali Center downtown.
  • In October 2008, Elvis topped Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s top-earning deceased celebrities. According to the publication, Presley raked in $52 million in 2008.

Since 1980, B & K Enterprises Costume Co., Inc. in southern Indiana has been re-creating the jeweled and jazzy jumpsuits of “The King” for entertainers and enthusiasts all over the world. See our Louisville Life feature on these official Elvis costumers.

Program 308
Louisville Life features the Southern Foodways Alliance, the Weber Group's imaginative theme-park creations, the history of the oldest Masonic home in North America, Elvis and more. (#308)