Every year the Levitt Shell hosts more than 50 free concerts and events and this year’s line-up includes Rosanne Cash, Davina & The Vagabonds, Chubby Carrier, and the Old 97’s. Here is a video by Mississippi blues piano player Eden Brent, live at the Levitt Shell.
As a visitor, you may not know the Levitt Shell isn’t just any other bandstand. It was built in 1933 as an outdoor performing arts pavilion in Overton Park in the heart of Midtown. Over the years the venue, originally called the Overton Park Shell, has hosted many great performances of light opera, ballet, and musicals.
The most significant concert in the shell’s history was on July 30, 1954 when a young Elvis Presley opened for headliner Slim Whitman and caused a sensation. Music historians regard it as the first rock n’ roll show!
Designed by architect Max Furbringer, the City of Memphis and the Works Progress Administration built the shell for $11,935, and modeled it after similar structures in St. Louis, Chicago, and New York. Over the years it fell into disrepair but was saved from demolition three times–in the mid-sixties, in 1973, and in 1984–by a group of dedicated people passionate to keep it. Extensively renovated and re-opened in 2008, the venue is one of the few remaining band shells of the original 27 built during the WPA era. All that history helps to appreciate this art deco gem while you spread out your blanket, unpack your cooler, and sit back to listen to some great music in the twilight.
A young truck driver from Tupelo, MS walked into Sun Studio on the evening of July 5th, 1954 to record three songs and one of them, “That’s All Right,” changed music history. He and his band mates, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, recorded the less-inspiring “Harbor Lights” and “I Love You Because” before launching into Mississippi bluesman Arthur Crudup’s 1954 song. Producer Sam Phillips knew a hit when he heard one and released the single 14 days later (with the B-side “Blue Moon of Kentucky”) and it went on to launch Elvis Presley’s career.
To mark that important milestone in music history, British actor and musician Sam Palladio will host a special program “That’s All Right: 60 Years On,” live from Sun Studio on July 5th on BBC Radio. Artists including Laura Bell Bundy, Candi Staton, and The Pierces will perform the songs Presley cut that hot night in Memphis along with other classic Elvis tracks.
The historic Levitt Shell (then called the Overton Park Shell) was the site of Elvis Presley’s first professional performance on July 30, 1954. He opened for Slim Whitman and the young audience was more in tune with Presley’s hip-shaking than Slim’s yodeling abilities. Somebody had the presence of mind to shoot home movies of Presley’s first concert.
This weekend, Levitt Shell is hosting a free concert to commemorate what music historians now regard as the first live rock ‘n’ roll show.
If you want to learn more about Elvis Presley’s upbringing, his musical influences, and what brought him to the studio that fateful day, this documentary features interviews with childhood friends, first girlfriends, and early band mates to build a complete picture. It’s the story of Elvis’s dirt-poor upbringing in Tupelo, MS, his job as a Memphis truck driver with musical aspirations, and his rapid rise to stardom in 1956. Even if you know a lot about Elvis, this 2008 documentary is still full of surprises. (He was actually blonde!)
The exhilarating moment when 19-year-old Elvis started improvising with Bill and Scotty in the studio and impressed Sam Phillips with their rendition of “That’s All Right” is dramatized in the 2005 CBS mini-series “Elvis.” Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays Presley–from his shy, polite demeanor off stage to his confident, sexy swagger on stage. The biopic dramatizes the rise of Elvis to superstardom, using his original recordings and real Graceland locations.
(Meyers beat out 300 others who auditioned for the lead and he ultimately won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his performance as Elvis Presley.)