I started out to do my usual Elvis auction review on the November 3 Heritage Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Auction. However, I got stuck on the very first Elvis item – a handbill for his’ March 25, 1961, Pearl Harbor concert.
[Just real quick for you newer Elvis fans that might know about the concert, it was to raise money toward the proposed memorial for the USS Arizona that was sunk by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 1102 American seamen perished that day.]
I’ve looked at this handbill picture several times before, and one time I wished I knew how to Photoshop, so I could do an upgrade on it. Elvis did not wear those baggy gold pants at the Pearl Harbor concert. Just the gold coat.
I wanted to take the handbill picture and Photoshop some black pants on Elvis – get him to look like he did when he performed. Then, I realized that the black pants wouldn’t show against the handbill’s black background. So, I gave up on the idea.
There were other things about this playbill I found interesting. It was obvious that Bill Black was no longer part of the Elvis band. DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore are listed in the marquee sign along with the Jordanaires.
By March 1961, Bill Black was into the third year of his career with Bill Black’s Combo. They were touring around the country playing hits like “Smokie – Part 2” and “White Silver Sands.”
Note that Bill Black has traded his stand-up bass for an electric one.
The man who replaced Bill Black in Elvis’ band for the Pearl Harbor show was Nashville session musician Bob Moore. The rest of the All-Star Cast referred to above was Floyd Cramer on piano, Hank Garland on rhythm guitar, and Boots Randolph on sax. All Stars indeed.
The back of the playbill featured three photos and lots of text.
Here’s a better look at the three pictures.
This is the architect’s rendering of what the planned USS Arizona Memorial would look like.
And here we have a picture of the sign on the site where the memorial would be built.
Col. Parker with the chairman of the memorial commission and the head Navy guy.
Another thing that struck me was the very brief narrative Heritage Auction’s website gave to this handbill, a significant collectible.
Elvis Presley Bloch Arena, Pearl Harbor Concert Handbill (The Pacific War Memorial Commission Proudly Presents, 1961). Very Rare. Double-sided, for a benefit show in Hawaii on Saturday March 25th. One side is printed in gold and black, showing a full-length image of Elvis wearing a gold suit, listing the support act as Minnie Pearl. Measures 9.25″ x 12.25″. In Very Good condition.
When I first read it, my thought was, “I wonder what Jeff Marren and Laura at Graceland Auctions would have to say, because they do such a great job on the narratives.” I inquired them, and found out they did have two tickets for the Pearl Harbor concert at auction last year. This is what they said then.
“Perhaps what endears Elvis Presley to his fans so much is the fact that it seemed like there was no end to his willingness to give. In December 1960 an editorial ran in an L.A. paper about the stalled efforts to complete the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. This article was spotted by the Colonel, and Elvis answered the call to duty.
“A benefit concert was organized to raise $50,000 towards the completion of the memorial. On January 11, 1961, a press conference was held and it was announced that Elvis would perform this benefit concert on the condition that every penny from the concert must go to the fund.
“Having honorably served his country in the Armed Forces, Elvis held this memorial and the soldiers that perished near to his heart.
“Ticket prices ranged from $3 to $10 for reserved section seats, and $100 for the 100 reserved “ringside” seats—and Elvis was the first to buy a ticket.
“The concert was set for March 25, 1961, and 4,000 screaming fans, 15 songs and $54,000 later, Elvis left the building. As a result of the concert and the huge amount of media attention it garnered, public and private donations flooded in from all over the country. On May 30, 1962 (Memorial Day) the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial was dedicated.”
Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but I’d like to think wonderful background text like this might bring some higher bidding. In fairness, the concert playbill went for $1,125 as presented, which is pretty impressive.
And I love this line about Elvis, “it seemed like there was no end to his willingness to give.” Elvis’ generosity is well documented, but this is the best description of it I have ever read.
Here’s one of those $100 tickets. That’s almost $900 in today’s money. Note there were no assigned seats. It must have been like a special private party area where you just socialized until it was time to find a seat and settle down for the show.
There are three interesting things in the text on the back of the handbill.
Under the heading Symbol of Freedom, it said, “The benefit performance by Presley… is symbolic of a new generation of Americans who have not forgotten the price of freedom or how dearly it has been maintained.” That sounds like Elvis to me.
Congress had authorized construction of the memorial three years earlier, but fund raising had slowed down to a crawl. Prior to the concert, only $300,000 of the needed $500,000 had been raised. One of the commissioners worried that “today the Arizona is but a rusting tomb.” The Colonel and Elvis jumped in to turn that situation around.
Two days after the concert, Elvis started the filming for Blue Hawaii.
My wife went to Hawaii twenty years ago with girlfriends, and of course, they went to the USS Arizona Memorial.
So she’s seen it, and I haven’t
My wife said it was a moving experience. I’m happy for her, but I’m a little jealous.
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