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Although Presley had been coming to Shreveport almost regularly for the past two years (one documentary filmmaker even counted that he visited the city more than forty times between 1954 and 1956!), none of his previous visits aroused as much interest as now.
Why? You can try to answer this question in different ways.
Well, first of all, it is not without significance, for example, that when on October 16, 1954, Elvis first appeared on the stage of the Muncipial Auditorium in Shreveport, from where the cult radio program “Louisiana Hayride” was broadcast today, he was just a debuting singer with one hit single on account.
Announcing his performance, radio journalist Frank Page said at the time: “ A few weeks ago this young man from Memphis, Tennessee, recorded a song for the SUN label. In just a few more weeks, the track soared up the charts and is doing really well across the country. The boy is only nineteen and has a new distinctive style .
Since then, however, Elvis’ popularity has increased significantly. From an unknown singer, he became a world-class star. He is currently recording for one of the largest record labels in the country. His albums and singles have sold millions of copies throughout the United States, Europe and even beyond. Television programs with his participation broke viewership records and in November 1956 a film was released in cinemas in which he played one of the title roles.
On the other hand, it is worth remembering that although Elvis performed in Shreveport almost every weekend from October 1954 onwards, he never played a full-length concert for the local audience. All his previous performances took place only as part of the above-mentioned broadcast, “Louisiana Hyride”.
The December 1956 performance thus allowed thousands of local Presley devotees to fully enjoy his stage performance for the first time.
As for the concert itself, it was organized as a result of an agreement between Colonel Parker and the owners of “Louisiana Hayride” on April 24, 1956.
The above arrangements concerned breaking – although in this case it would be more appropriate to use the word, canceling another one-year contract signed by Presley in September 1955 with “Louisiana Hayride” and the purchase by the artist’s manager of all canceled performances during the term of the contract (i.e. from April to November 1956 year) for $10,000.
On the same day, Parker agreed that Elvis would play a farewell concert for Hayride in December*, with all proceeds going to charity.
And so it happened.
The funds obtained from the sale of tickets for Presley’s performance in Shreveport supported the activities of The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA Camp for short) which promotes Christian values and influences harmonious physical development (money from the Elvis concert helped, among others, to build a swimming pool), spiritual and mental young people.
The vast majority of the “Louisiana Hayride” broadcast, which began in April 1948, was broadcast by the KWKH station from the Municipial Auditorium. However, when in the summer of 1956 the facility was closed for a few months for renovation, the concerts were moved to the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum – a multi-purpose arena that had been opened only two years earlier and could accommodate up to ten thousand spectators.
In the autumn of 1956, the program returned to its original location, but the organizers of Elvis’s concert, fearing that the two thousand seats available at the Municipal Auditorium might not be sufficient to accommodate all his fans, decided to move his performance to the aforementioned Hirsch Memorial Coliseum.
And as it turned out, it was the right move.
All tickets (at the price of two and two and a half dollars each) for Presley’s performance sold out at a rapid pace (and still many people had to leave with the proverbial “receipt”) and on the day of the concert the first fans began to gather in front of the entrance to the auditorium from seven o’clock in the morning – even though Elvis was not supposed to take the stage until 8:00 p.m.
The evening concert was preceded by a short press conference during which Elvis was supposed to answer questions from local journalists for several minutes. The word “had” is key here, however, because the meeting with the press quickly got out of hand and turned into something that the journalists present on the spot remembered as a crazy “hunt” of teenage fans for autographs and joint photos with the idol.
Of all the autographs that Elvis gave that day, the most valuable seems to be the one given to Betty Fields – a patient of the local hospital, suffering from polio for several years, who was brought to the Coliseum with iron lungs** to meet her idol (won in a radio contest)…
And that was just a foretaste of what happened next…
” My car was literally trampled on that night ,” Horce Logan, program director of Louisiana Hayride, described. ” I parked it right by the Coliseum, next to the dressing room, and then some old ladies climbed on top of it and completely smashed my roof trying to see Elvis .”
It was even hotter inside the building, where a sea of enthusiastic admirers of Presley had been crowding for several dozen minutes, impatiently awaiting his entrance on stage.
When finally, wearing white boots, navy blue pants, a green jacket, a white shirt and a pink tie, Elvis stepped in front of the microphone and teased the audience as he began the opening bars of “Heartbreak Hotel”, the crowd of 10,000 went wild.
Everyone started screaming shrilly, and loud praises for the twenty-one-year-old singer from Memphis echoed throughout the Coliseum throughout his performance. Continually! “ The evening concert was an eye opener ,” confessed Hal Kanter, who watched it all. “ I have never seen so many flashes in my life. The place was crowded and the audience itself was making such a noise that no one seemed to even hear what the man (Elvis, author’s note) was singing. It was really spectacular, even for me .”
Not only the famous Hollywood director was impressed, but even people who had already witnessed several other, earlier performances of Presley in “Louisiana Hayride”.
Horce Logan, quoted by Peter Guralnick in the book Last Train To Memphis, recounted: “ That night (for security reasons, author’s note) the stage was separated from the audience by twenty-five feet. No one was supposed to go there, but when we got there, it turned out that everyone was already squeezed right under the stage .
The head of the fire brigade had to intervene and threatened that if the audience did not return to their designated places, the concert would be cancelled. Logan, seeing that his requests for a change of place did not work, resorted to a small trick. “ I’m sorry to have to do this, but I can only let these young men with iron lungs (Confederate Memorial Hospital patients) into this place ,” he addressed the crowd. “ Each of you needs to step back so we can put these kids in front. And they did it .”
In turn, the host of the broadcast Frank Page admitted in one of the interviews: ” I was not prepared for this evening. […] I had never before heard ten thousand teenagers screaming at the top of their lungs at once. It was absolutely terrifying. The screaming intensified as Elvis entered the stage and continued as long as he stood there. Many people later told me that the audience couldn’t tell whether (Elvis, author’s note) sang or not, or even if a band was playing! “.
Elvis performed for just over half an hour. During this time, he performed ten of his greatest hits, starting with “Heartbreak Hotel” through “Long Tall Sally”, “I Was The One”, “Love Me Tender”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me”, “I Got A Woman”, “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again” and “Paralyzed” and ending with “Hound Dog”.
After the latter sounded, the words ” Elvis has left the building” flowed from the stage for the first time in history.
Reviews that appeared in the press the next day (or a few days after the show) unanimously spoke of an event Shreveport had never seen before. ” Elvis’s appearance on stage in ‘Hayride’ alone set off a veritable atomic explosion of flashlights and teenage squeals that turned into veritable pandemonium ,” wrote one reporter. It didn’t matter that this whirling troubadour was rarely, if ever, heard by the audience screaming like Zulus every time he moved a muscle. The Pelvis uses more ‘Body English’ to sing their songs than many baseball pitchers and more strokes than a well-oiled Swiss watch .
- The last regular concert for “Louisiana Hayride” Elvis played on March 31, 1956
- The iron lung is a type of respirator that allows breathing when the respiratory muscles are inefficient. The formal name of this device is negative pressure ventilator
Information provided by EP Promised Land (Poland), Marius Ogliego
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