‘American Cool’ at the National Portrait Gallery


A young Elvis Presley charges up a crowd in Tupelo, Miss., in 1956, the year his first record came out. (Peter Marshutz/Peter Marshutz and the Fahey/Klein Gallery)
June 6, 2014

For Elvis Presley, 1956 was a pivotal year: He turned 21, released his first record, made his first television appearance and began his movie career. Roger Marshutz’s photo from that year shows the allure of the young King of Rock-and-Roll at a Tupelo, Miss., outdoor concert. Girls reach across the bottom of the stage to him, almost like Elvis is a magnetic force.

The photo is featured in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit “American Cool,” which runs through Sept. 7. The museum’s Elvis expert, E. Warren Perry Jr., describes the shot as a moment of magic. Elvis had the ability to be playful and seductive at the same time, bringing out the primal side of those around him, Perry says. It made his concerts almost like revivals, but with a twist — the dark-clad man with a commanding manner seems to Perry a bit devilish.

Perry, a native of Memphis who never saw Elvis perform but looked for him around town, was rewarded with a few sightings. Elvis elicited devotion from fans across generations and musical styles because he was all-American, Perry says. First a young rebel, he then became a patriot through his military service and went on to connect with mainstream America in his movies and Las Vegas stage act. He was an accomplished gospel and R&B musician as well as a rock icon.

The Elvis in this photo shows a young man’s charisma and promise, a hint of what is to come.

Greer is a freelance writer.

American Cool

Through Sept. 7 at the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F Streets NW, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Free. www.npg.si.edu. 202-633-8300.

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