Elvis Presley may have left the building for good over 30 years ago, but the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s legacy continues. As a matter of fact, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will be celebrating what would have been Presley’s 75th birthday with a series of events Friday and Saturday at the downtown Cleveland institution on the shores of Lake Erie.
“The Rock Hall wanted to offer something special to fans and visitors,” said Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Assistant Curator Meredith Rutledge. “It’s something to celebrate, so we’re having a party. We are going to have a giant birthday card; everybody will be welcome to sign it; and we’ll send it to Graceland. And we’ll have cake. What’s a birthday party without cake?”
Even though the annual “Elvis Birthday Tribute” takes place Sunday at the Palace Theatre, the Rock Hall and Playhouse Square events are not affiliated. Still, you can’t help but feel they belong together beginning with the cake cutting, which takes place at noon Friday with a special meet-the-curator/artifact spotlight scheduled for 2 p.m. the same day as Jim Henke, chief curator and vice president of exhibitions, discusses the various Presley items on display. This includes an ostentatious 1975 Lincoln Continental Mark IV 2 Door Coupe, a 1973-era jumpsuit, an acoustic guitar used in his 1968 Comeback Special and plenty of guns.
“Something I’m really excited about is there will be highlights from the induction ceremonies shown in the museum’s Foster Theater,” Rutledge said.
“This includes Elvis Presley’s induction at the first ceremony in 1986. Elvis was inducted by Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon because John Lennon was such a huge Presley fan. He was always quoted as saying before Elvis, there was nothing. And Elvis Presley is really what turned John Lennon into a musician. So in honor of that fact, his widow and son inducted Elvis Presley.”
She added, “The Rock Hall will also be showing inductions of his band mates James Burton, Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana and Bill Black. Of course, DJ Fontana and Black were inducted here in Cleveland at the ceremony this past April.”
Even though his band mates are getting up in age, the fact that they are were still around in the New Millennium underscores what is perhaps the biggest tragedy regarding Presley’s 75th birthday.
“He sure should be here,” Rutledge said. “I guess it’s very telling about what rock ’n’ roll takes out of a person, especially somebody like Presley, who came off as raw sexuality and really over-the-top charisma. He was really a very private and sensitive guy, and just having his life exposed to the millions, I think, really took a lot out of him. Obviously during the end of his life, he did a lot of self-medicating, and it really took its toll on his life.”
She added, “As far as his legacy, Elvis really integrated music to a very large extent. I think his legacy can be felt in somebody like Eminem and Justin Timberlake. Someone that is really taking on Africa-American music and culture as their own, and destigmatizing any kind of stigma attached to Africa-American culture. Just making it everyone’s music. Just sort of opening up the doors and making people aware of another culture that’s vibrant and alive and makes you want to dance.