When I did the third installment of high school memories of Elvis, I thought it was finished. However, I recently discovered an article in a 1989 issue of Elvis International magazine titled “Memories of Elvis.” It was written by a former Humes High School student named Earl Green. Research indicates he was not in Elvis’ 1953 graduating class, perhaps a year ahead, but he did live in Lauderdale Courts and seems to have known Elvis pretty well. Here is what he remembered.
As a student at L.C. Humes High school in Memphis, Elvis Presley was very nervous and shy at first. When he first reported to school he admitted, “The hair on my head felt like it was standing straight up.”
He was a tall handsome boy with long sideburns (which he said he grew to make himself look older). He also suffered from acne, the skin inflammation that is so often a difficulty for teenagers. He had a healthy appetite for girls and enjoyed dating, and girls liked being his date.
He was a member of R.O.T.C., a required course in Memphis city schools. It was one of his favorite subjects and he wore his uniform proudly, unaware at the time that in a few years he would be wearing a very similar uniform… that of the U.S. Army.
Elvis tried out for and made the football team, the Humes High Tigers. He played end for one season but didn’t play in many games and he never scored a touchdown. It was said that the coach told him to cut his long hair, so he dropped football.
While other guys at Humes wore plain colored or plaid shirts, Elvis often wore loud shirts. He came to school one day wearing a purple, satin shirt. “They’re snickering at me,” he said. “They don’t like it.”
“You like it, don’t you?” I said. “That’s all that counts.”
Elvis was very shy in school at first, and when it came to music, he was even more shy. Occasionally, he would bring his guitar to school and sit in home room strumming it before classes started. Students would gather around him and ask him to sing, but he usually refused because he had a severe case of stage fright. He seemed to want to run away and yet he wanted to stay and see it through. On one occasion, after much coaxing from the students, Elvis finally sang a few bars of a country and western song interspersed with a few shy chuckles. You could feel the magnetism of the singer’s personality as students gathered around him to listen.
At one time during his Humes High days, Elvis lived in a federally funded housing project, Lauderdale Courts, in a ground-floor apartment at 185 Winchester Street. My family lived at the same address on the third floor. Elvis’ mother, Gladys, walked Elvis to school … until he was in the ninth grade.
As the school days and years went by, Elvis slowly developed confidence. When one of his teachers was chosen to be the producer of the senior variety show, she put Elvis in it. This was his first performance on stage. This act alone was instrumental in helping Elvis cast off much of his shyness and stage fright. Years later, he said, “I wasn’t nervous. I was petrified.”
Elvis wore a loud shirt in the variety show. His long sideburns and loud clothes helped him establish an identity and thereby added to his confidence. There was not enough time for all the acts to have an encore, so it was decided that the act that drew the most applause would get the encore. The audience really liked him.
While attending Humes High, I was an usher at the old Malco Theater at the corner of Main and Beale. At the same time, Elvis was an usher at Loew’s State Theater in downtown Memphis. His salary was $12.75 per week.
Elvis had a penchant for loud apparel. When he could afford it, he would buy clothes at Lansky Brothers, a clothing store on Beale Street, the street made famous by W.C. Handy, the black composer of blues songs.
This young, mad, Elvis Aaron Presley, who lived only a few miles from legendary Beale Street, would soon explode on the music world with unequaled success. Thank God he left us all a legacy of records and films we can treasure and enjoy for years to come.
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