If you drew a line straight from Nashville to the Mississippi Delta it would fly right over Tupelo, MS and the neighborhood that produced Elvis Presley. Rock and roll is just one part country, one part blues, and one part southern gospel. It's no accident that The King was born halfway between the geographic focal points of country and blues, in a hotbed of North Mississippi church music. It's almost as if he is simply a product of his environment. As if he emerged from the earth. Of course he came from Mississippi.
We gave our photo contributor, Ben McAlilly, a couple rolls of film and sent him back to his hometown to document young Elvis' haunts while they're still around. From a drive-in to a hardware store, to an elementry school, much of Elvis's day-to-day life is still in tact. Things in Tupelo haven't really changed all that much.
Here's the place that produced one of rock's most influential artists.
Tupelo became the first TVA city the year that Elvis was born, 1935. Coincidence that the year the town got electricity the person who would do the most for rock and roll was born? Rock and roll is very much a by-product of new musical possibilities available to guitar players with electric guitars plugging into amplifiers.
Even baby Elvis was handsome. Here he is in 1937 with his mother Gladys and his father Vernon. Vernon spent a little time in prison when Elvis was a baby. This is a pretty famous shot that was not taken by us. We just wanted to show y'all what baby Elvis looked like.
Elvis grew up singing in this church, the Assembly of God in East Tupelo. The original structure has now been moved to his birthplace museum. You are welcome.
The shotgun shack where Elvis was born and the family lived.
The hardware store where Elvis bought his first guitar, a 1940s Kay. It was his 11th birthday present. Some say it cost Gladys $7.90 and others say it was $7.75 plus tax. He wanted a rifle, but she talked him into a guitar instead. Nothing about this place has changed since then, except maybe they added that Ace sign and A/C. It's still a family-operated business, with two generations of George Booth running the store today.
Elvis liked to eat at Johnnie's Drive-In down the street from his house. The hamburgers are still good.
The menu at Johnnie's.
We're not actually sure if the Dairy Kream was in business when Elvis lived here, but it's been around a long time and gives you a sense of the neighborhood.
Milam Junior High, where Elvis attended the 6th through 8th grade. He sang for his class before the family left for Memphis. Mrs. Camp recalls, "He was so good the children just got quiet and pleased with him."
This is the grave for Elvis' stillborn identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley. Notice the faint "J G" on the tombstone. Jesse's middle name rhymes with Elvis' because "his mama wanted it that way."
The family plot in East Tupelo.
When Elvis was 13 the family got into this car and drove to Memphis in search of a better economic future.
The Lee County courthouse in downtown Tupelo was built in 1915. Just a couple blocks away were the Tupelo Fairgrounds where Elvis would perform a much-heralded homecoming show in 1956.
The Lyric Theater (across the street from the courthouse) was built in 1912 and is still haunted and active today.
The memorial chapel at the birthplace museum has some very 70s-style architecture, such as these abstract stained-glass windows.
That is how you do a porch swing.
Another view of the house originally on Old Saltillo Road. The family survived a devastating tornado in 1936 in this humble structure. The tornado wrecked most of the town and killed hundreds.
The road from the Ryman auditorium to the MS Delta goes right through Tupelo.
Ben McAlilly is a photographer and wilderness therapy field instructor in Asheville, NC. Follow him @benstagramzz.
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