Elvis Rocks Little Rock was a fantastic bootleg release on the legendary Bilko label more than twenty years ago, since officially issued by RCA several times, and Presley's appearance at that famous Arkansas city on Wednesday, May 16, 1956, has not been forgotten.
Below are some incandescent memories collected by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from people who were there, more than half a century ago. Some of the reflections are poignant ("I remember being embarrassed that I didn’t get what seemed so obvious to my peers"), some hilarious ("I was infected with his music"). Evidently, besides blowing the roof off of the Robinson Memorial Auditorium, Elvis brought up to the stage and kissed Priscilla (!!), the president of his local fan club at one of the shows.
Looking back: Elvis Presley visits Robinson Auditorium on May 16, 1956
“I was in the 10th grade and went with three girls. One was my girlfriend of the moment, Peggy Adams, who shortly afterwards moved to Fresno, Calif. When Elvis started singing, everyone, mostly girls, started screaming. So I joined in but did it to mimic them.
“After the concert, I went backstage and stood in line and got his autograph. He was covered in sweat and had long sideburns. He sat in a chair alone with a little table autographing his picture.” — Porter Briggs, Little Rock
“I remember jumping up and down, screaming and my Dad (who drove a group of us there in his station wagon) being shocked at Elvis’ movements. He thought them lewd. We girls were so naive, we didn’t have a clue. Mother bought me a new pleated shirt and matching gray sweater. Rock and roll soft saddle shoes and bobby socks completed the outfit. Hair ... pony tail, of course. The noise was deafening and exciting. Does any one remember Elvis kissing some girl from the audience and she fainted? What a fun, happy, carefree time we had.” — Judi Rogers Clifford, Hilton Head, S.C.
“We knew we were swept away in the beginning of something huge.” — Eleanor Nolan, Seattle, Wash.
“I was more of a Pat Boone fan (loved his white bucks, which my husband still wears every summer), but I certainly became a big Elvis fan and had all his records during my high school years. For me, those were wonderful music years. I have three grown daughters and two of them still love the music of Elvis. The concert was a great experience, and it’s always fun to say you’ve seen Elvis in concert.” — Kaye Lenderman Burton, Little Rock
“I was thrilled and screaming with the rest of the girls. I don’t think my date, Louis Cryer, screamed at all. It just seemed to be the females who were so moved by Elvis. I was infected with his music. I remember a car trip with my parents around that time, when all I wanted was for them to keep switching radio stations so I could hear his songs. I attended a summer camp with girls from other parts of the country ... not many southerners. None of them had ever heard of Elvis Presley. I wrote to my parents and had them mail me my records so I could ‘introduce’ them to the music.” — Trudy Levy Jacobson, Little Rock
“My girlfriend and I left our seats and ran down to the stage, but we weren’t alone. The guards had a tough time even back then.” — Janis Fithen Railey, Little Rock
“I attended the Elvis concert in May 1956 and still have the souvenir program, framed and hanging in my closet. My older brother took me and his fiancee and told us he would do so, but we better not scream like the other girls. So I sat quietly all during the concert. I had a wonderful time, but was embarrassed by his twisting and shaking on stage. Almost 16, I had never witnessed moves like that before and especially with my brother present, my face was red. The program has been my favorite keepsake and it has survived many moves.” — Ginger English, Bauxite
“My name is Donna Groom Bartell and I attended the concert with my friends Roger Lynn Brown Latsha and David Johnston. We were in Junior High School in Hot Springs so Roger Lynn’s mom drove us from Hot Springs to Little Rock for the concert.
“Seeing Elvis Presley at Robinson Auditorium was a thrill of a lifetime and Elvis put on one of his greatest performances that night! The show started with the Jordanaires just to warm up the crowd and then the spotlight hit Elvis and he started singing, tossing his hair and swiveling his hips and the screaming began and never stopped the entire show. I was hanging over the balcony in my white shirt, full skirt and bobby socks and my friend Roger Lynn was shimmying in the aisle in her strapless white sundress. [Our friend] David Johnston was looking on with amazement. The whole auditorium was in a state of pandemonium and it lasted the whole concert!
“We were 8th and 9th graders. We were still in shock and so excited [after the concert]; we were singing and still raving about Elvis all the way home as Roger Lynn’s mom drove us back to Hot Springs. We thanked her over and over again and told her it was the most exciting thing we had ever done. “I kept my ticket and the write up in the paper, but that summer at Camp Joyzelle an avid Elvis fan paid me a lot of money for my souvenirs so I no longer have them in my scrapbook. I wish I had kept them.” — Donna Groom Bartell, North Little Rock
“I went with my friend Arthur Russel, who had a very sharp 1948 Plymouth. We took three girls with us, Patsy and JoAnn Swain and Linda Screechfield. We drove 50 miles to the concert. I wore jeans and a T-shirt.
“We had to sit at the back of the auditorium because we barely got tickets for the show. Girls were screaming and yelling. I liked all of his songs, but Elvis did introduce a new song, which was ‘Hound Dog.’ Elvis called a girl up out of the audience and introduced her as President of Elvis Fan Club. Then he kissed her. Her name was Priscilla, strange huh? All and all we enjoyed the concert very much, what a great artist Elvis was, we sure miss him. Katie, my wife of 48 years has always been an Elvis fan, we go to Graceland often.” — Charles Hunter, Searcy
“We were four guys 17 years old, just weeks away from graduating from Central High School, the night Elvis Presley came to Little Rock in May of 1956. We all knew Elvis from radio and The Ed Sullivan Show [sic] and some had seen him perform earlier on the back of a flatbed truck at the Louisiana Hayride. Everyone was caught up with him as the biggest thing to hit our lives, being at an especially impressionable age ( I remember my parents not being excited or thinking that he was “any big thing” — little did they know!). Everyone wanted to be like him, imitate him; sing his songs; try to do hair like his and dress like him; even doing his famous moves.
“Somehow my group got about 10th row center orchestra seats; Robinson was absolutely packed. Many of our fellow students were close by in the auditorium and when Elvis came out the screams were deafening. He was still thin then and wore a bright gold glittering suit [sic]; guitar around the neck with characteristic grin and swagger.
“Once he began to sing everyone was constantly thrashing and bouncing out of their seats, into the aisles in a state of nonstop frenzied excitement to the beat of his music; the whole of Robinson Auditorium was rocking and shaking. “When the performance was over we were all drenched with sweat and worn out, but still bouncing to the beat in our heads.” — Joe W. Crow, Little Rock
“I love this memory! It was a passage into adolescence for me, getting the invitation to join a Forest Heights group to celebrate a girl’s birthday ... being a guest at a concert with a group of friends... fond and detailed recall of the excitement of being on the front row, the big crowd ... being confused about this person we were there to see and hear.
“I can bring this memory into high definition focus: the absolutely overwhelming experience of watching Elvis begin his first number and the surprise I felt at the reactions around me as he began performing. Everyone jumped to their feet and started yelling (boys), screaming (girls), laughing (parents).
“I knew what the stage floor looked like (in the 6th grade my class danced in an all-schools program on the boards where Elvis stood). From the front row, I was looking straight into the face-front of the stage. From that vantage the only way I saw anything on the stage was by tilting my head back into an almost painful angle and looking straight up into Elvis’s grinding hips and loosey-goosey legs.
“I honestly did not know why people were so excited, but I knew I’d better act like I was too, so I studied the girls around me and did my best to imitate the screams with hands to my heart and hair and arms waving the air. I remember being embarrassed that I didn’t get what seemed so obvious to my peers. It makes me laugh today to remember that truly there was innocence in my lifetime and it’s my Elvis memory that brings me to treasure it from this thereafter.” — Edie Garland Barentine, Texarkana
“I do remember my parents having concerns about my attending. When their friends found out I was going they let my mother and dad know they thought it a very bad idea. The things I might learn from watching Elvis would stick with me forever. They were right. I can still sing most of his songs and have watched my own children sing them and now my grandchildren are interested in his music. They absolutely cannot believe I heard Elvis in person. I went with Cathie Matthews, Susan Linebarger and Eleanor Cook. My parents felt more comfortable knowing I was with my dear friends and they also felt those parents wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t in the best interest of their kids. We planned for a week the outfit we would wear. Mine? A yellow and white striped skirt with a beanie to match. Did I scream? Of course. Along with everyone else. There is no other memory (not counting marriage and childbirth) that compares with my night with Elvis. He sang only to me.” — Karen Giss Morrical, Carmel, Ind.
“I remember my parents took about three other smitten girls and we were obnoxiously entranced. Elvis was very late for the show but mesmerized all in a hurry with gyrations no one had ever witnessed before! “What memories.” — Patsy Mayes Janes, Forth Smith
“I remember taking opera glasses and looking at Elvis’ arms for needle marks. I had heard he used needles for drugs. I saw none and adored the concert. Our gang continued to dance in the gym at Hall High School in stocking feet before school to Elvis and rock and roll.” — Mary Peirce Connor Burke, Groton, Conn.
“I was, indeed there on May 16th, 1956. I had met Elvis previously in February, 1955. In May, 1956, I went to the concert with a lady I worked with at First National Bank in Little Rock. I wore a pink and black dress, with a black scarf around my neck. I knew those were Elvis’s favorite colors. I still have the black scarf. I think I rode the bus, as I usually did when I went to the Robinson Auditorium. The concert was fantastic! I liked all of the songs, especially ‘Hound Dog,’ because Elvis slid across the stage, microphone in hand. It was awesome!
"After the first show, I was lucky enough to go backstage for the second show. While waiting for the second performance to start, Elvis came over and started playing the piano, as he did many times before a show. I visited with him and had a photo taken with him. There were two young men sitting backstage and Elvis walked over, stuck out his hand and said, ‘Hi, I’m Elvis Presley.’ The boys nearly fell out of their chairs. That was the kind of gentleman Elvis was and he was very humble. Ray Green, a DJ was backstage also, and recorded Elvis’s performance that night. He was President of the I Met Elvis Fan Club until about 15 years ago, when he asked me if I would like to take over the Fan Club. Twice a year, Graceland invites the Fan Club President for a get-together on the anniversary of his birthdate, Jan. 8, 1935, and the anniversary of his death, August 16, 1977.” — Joyce Joyner Hightower (Pictured), Tumbling Shoals
“Oh what a night!!!! I went with my sister, Linda, and friends Leora, Hazel and Kent Miller. We all lived in Dardanelle and Kent drove us in his 1955 Chevy.
“I was 16 and had a date that night but couldn’t get in touch with my date to cancel, so I asked Mother to tell him I had gone to see Elvis. He was not happy and I don’t think he ever forgave me, but that’s OK it was worth it.
“I don’t remember what I wore that night but during the fifties we wore full skirts with lots of heavy starched petticoats, loafers and bobby socks. We didn’t wear jeans or tennis shoes back then. We couldn’t wear pants of any kind to school. We always wore dresses or fitted or tight skirts.
“The concert was great. I loved all of the songs that Elvis sang. But my favorite of all is ‘Love Me Tender.’
“After the concert, I went backstage and Elvis signed a picture for me. Being at the Elvis concert was one of the highlights of my life. I’ve enjoyed telling my children and grandchildren about going to see Elvis Presley when I was 16.” — Ann Land Selig, Fort Smith
“My fiancé, my roommate and her fiancé had tickets for the concert. At the last day, both she and my fiancé had to work, so I went to the concert with her fiancé. We took my car, as he did not have one. “I remember that I wore my pink poodle skirt with the black poodle and heels. I do not have the stub and do not remember how much the tickets were, but whatever they were, they were certainly worth every bit.
“Since we had two extra tickets, we turned them in to the box office when we got there and the lady almost had a heart attack when we showed her the tickets. Everyone had been clamoring for tickets.
“The concert was just wonderful. He had everyone wanting to dance in the aisles and he seemed to enjoy himself. The management of the auditorium put speakers out on the front so that the ones who did not have a ticket could hear the concert. The steps going up into the building were full!” — Verniel East, Searcy
“I was with Judy Fagan in the center third row. We were in the 9th grade. I had my hair in a ducktail. All I know is we screamed, hollered, rocked and had a great time.” — Marilyn Thomas Robison, Little Rock
“Yes, I was there with my mother. I was 14. Neither of us had any idea of who Elvis was, but my father was given two tickets and since he had to work that night, we went to see what it was all about. The tickets were $1.50 each and we sat in the balcony, front row. It was so electrifying that I was afraid my mother was going to jump over the railing. She was screaming like any teenager. I screamed too. I was glad she was having fun with me. I went home that night a true, devoted fan.
“I fell in love that night. I had never been on a date and I saw this handsome man, singing beautifully. I fell in love like the rest of the audience. Mom got over it when she got home, but I didn’t. I bought his records and magazines, cut out his pictures. One wall in my room was covered with Elvis pictures.
“As I got older, he lost his glow a bit for me. I used to go to his movies, I just wanted to see him, look at him. The movie could have been silent and I wouldn’t have cared.” — Jeanette Jones Green, Layfayette, La.
NOTE: Jeanette Jones Green is married to Ray Green, the disc jockey who recorded Elvis’ concert that night. They have been wed for 50 years. (Ray Green is pictured here with Elvis.)