Elvis, On His Own In Shreveport

December 9, 2007 - February 24, 2008
Taken for The Times and The Journal by Shreveport photojournalists Jack Barham and Langston McEachern, these rarely seen photographs depict Presley in his final Hayride performance in 1956. The photographs add a new dimension to the history of and the relationships among Shreveport, the Louisiana Hayride and the singer's meteoric ascension to stardom in 1956. From the collection of the Meadows Museum of Art, Centenary College, Shreveport.


They've got a blue Christmas with Elvis. But a merry one.
Elvis Presley, dead since 1977, is still pulling 'em in. At a city-owned museum in northeast Louisiana, he's the main attraction for the holidays. Through Feb. 24, the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, La., is showing photographs of Presley's last appearance at the Louisiana Hayride the country music show at which an announcer is purported to have been the first to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building" and local artists' interpretations of the King of Rock 'n Roll.
"Attendance has been great. It's a fun show, and one that's real easy to bring the family to," said Evelyn Pell, curator of exhibitions and collections at the Masur (pronounced "MASS'-er"). "All ages can enjoy this, because everyone knows who Elvis is."

The museum is decorated in blue, celebrating Presley's depressive holiday favorite, "Blue Christmas." Wreaths outside include blue ribbons and blue and silver balls, and the halls are decked with blue lights and blue and silver decorations.

The photographs are black and white, taken by staffers for Shreveport's daily newspapers at a Dec. 15, 1956, benefit set up as part of Col. Tom Parker's $10,000 buyout of Presley's $200-a-week contract with the Hayride. Parker, Presley's manager, already had signed bigger deals for Elvis: a $40,000 recording contract, a seven-year movie contract and television appearances.
The late Langston McEachern of The Times and Jack Barham of The Shreveport Journal, an afternoon paper which folded in 1991, were friends and competitors.

"The Times was on one side of the building, the Journal on the other," Barham recalls. "We'd go on assignment together. We'd be in real competition until one of our cameras didn't work or ran out of film, and we'd swap."

Barham, who kept the rights to any negatives the paper didn't use, met Presley while covering another performer on the Hayride, a live country music show broadcast on KWKH-AM radio.
"I was going behind the curtain to get different angles to shoot. There was a kid lying down between the curtains there, with a guitar," he recalled. "I stepped over him twice. I said, `Who the hell are you?' He said, 'I'm Elvis Presley, sir.'"

They became friends. When Presley was in town, he'd call Barham and invite him out for drinks.
One of McEachern's photographs shows Presley in 1954, the year his first two singles were released. "He's wearing a suit and bow-tie, and his band is in Western cowboy gear," Pell said. "He looks really timid. Like he's nervous."

The Hayride benefit performance came at the end of a year that began with the release of Presley's breakout hit "Heartbreak Hotel." Presley had two singles in 1954 and seven in 1955. Then in 1956 he went on to 21 records, 10 of them extended play records with two songs to a side, and his first two long-playing albums, with six songs per side.

The 3,200 seats in the show's usual home, the Municipal Auditorium, weren't enough so Elvis sang before 10,000 people at the State Fair Grounds. Fans paid $2 in advance, $2.50 at the door. Presley signed autographs backstage for polio victims in iron lungs. Proceeds benefited the YMCA.

On stage, he showed off the sneer and gyrations that made parents fear for their daughters.
"There's some really great shots of him on his knees, on stage _ the heart of the performance you think of when you think of Elvis performing," Pell said.

The next day, The Times described the event as "one of the finest displays of mass hysteria in Shreveport history."

"The gyrating rotary troubadour was seldom if ever heard by an audience, screaming every time he moved," it reported.

The photographs came to light six years ago, when the Meadows Museum at Centenary College in Shreveport was preparing an exhibit of Jay Leviton's photographs of Presley's 1956 tour.
Diane Dufilho, director of the Meadows Museum, said she was directed to the Times and Journal photographers by someone who recalled their photos. McEachern "had all these negatives in a shoebox," Dufilho said. For the Masur's other exhibit, Pell said, "We chose artists in the area to bring people we knew could bring us quality artwork and creative artwork."

Many are portraits, but there's an oil pastel of lips the Elvis sneer, the Elvis smile, and so on with titles of Presley hits, by Linda Snider Ward. The portraits include a mosaic, by Staci Mendaries, of bits of broken records.

There's also a photograph by Camille Jungman, an art history instructor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, of a beauty parlor owner standing next to her portrait of Elvis on velvet, hanging next to a "story about how she got to meet Elvis was young, and he smelled so good and was so handsome. There's this great respect and love for him," Pell said.

And yes, she said, "We have one velvet Elvis. In every show, I guess you have to have one."
The painting on purple velvet, by Randy Jolly, includes rhinestones on the King's painted white jumpsuit.

The shows have brought in a number of people who might not come to more traditional exhibits.
"We've had a lot of Elvis fans; we've had people who remember the Louisiana Hayride, listening as they grew up, a lot who want to tell you their Elvis story," Pell said. "Or they have the name of someone they knew who went to high school with Elvis we ought to call for their story."
Source: Google / Updated: Dec 24, 2007 
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