|Elvis Express Radio brings news of Elvis releases and provides free online entertainment & news to fans around the world. We DO NOT sell any Elvis products
|AT HOME WITH ELVIS
King’s first house now concert home for students and fans
January 30, 2016 Commercial Appeal / Elvis Express Radio
Sixty years ago, in March 1956, Elvis Presley purchased his first home: a four-bedroom ranch house at 1034 Audubon Drive in East Memphis. Though he lived there for just over a
year during 1956 and 1957, it came right in the midst of his meteoric rise in the music business and American culture.
"He bought the house at 21, had his first brush with real success, had signed to RCA, and went from being a regional star to being world famous," says John Bass, a Rhodes
College professor and director of the school's Mike Curb Institute for Music. "The 13 months in that house — Elvis goes on Ed Sullivan, he records 'Hound Dog' and 'Don't Be
Cruel,' begins making movies ... a big percentage of what people think about Elvis is what he did while living in that house."
Forty years later, in 2006, just as music industry veteran and philanthropist Mike Curb established the Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes ("to understand Memphis music and music
of the South more fully," notes Bass), Presley's Audubon house went on the market. Curb, who has a history of preserving significant musical spaces (he recently helped save
RCA's Studio A in Nashville), purchased the Presley home. He made Rhodes steward of the house, with the idea that it would be used by the school as an extension of the Curb
For the first few years, it hosted small events and VIP receptions. Then it became a base to document the oral histories of music veterans, as well as a place for students to
conduct interviews with contemporary artists. Occasionally, it would host special events, such as a reunion of Presley's 1950s Audubon neighbors.
In late 2013, the house began hosting a series of Rhodes/Curb Institute-sponsored music events. "We got the idea of hosting house concerts," says Bass. "To not just use the
house as a kind of museum space, but rather to have active creative things happening there."
They began with a trial concert with local alt-pop band Star and Micey that year. Part of the effort was designed to give students a working experience, as they help set up, film and
record the shows alongside professionals such as New School Media and producer/engineer Doug Easley, and partners such as the Levitt Shell and Stax Museum.
"With the Audubon house events, we're able to complement Rhodes' core liberal arts education with a real world application by bringing musicians in and having students working
on all aspects of the project," says Bass.
Though the house can only accommodate 70 people — generally invited guests — Rhodes decided to expand the audience by sharing the filmed concerts online as "An Evening
at Elvis'" (eveningatelvis.org). Over the last couple years the house has hosted concerts by Mississippi bluesman Bobby Rush, singer-songwriter and Memphis native Rosanne
Cash, Southern roots chanteuse Valerie June, guitar great Bill Frisell and jazz giant Charles Lloyd, among others.
"Students are not only workers but are part of the strategic development of the series," says Bass. "With their help, we're always thinking about Memphis music broadly and not
getting locked into any one genre, to make it as widely encompassing as possible."
In November, the house hosted a show by Memphis rapper Preauxx. "Honestly, it was monumental for me to be the first hip-hop artist to perform at Elvis Presley's house," says
Preauxx, aka Chris Dansby. "I felt really honored in that sense, to be part of the legacy of Memphis music. What surprised me was that it was a diverse crowd, from young people to
older people. For a hip-hop act to be able to captivate them, it was something special."
Preauxx's set was memorable for many reasons, including the way he got the audience moving out of their chairs. "Whenever I perform I want people to let go of their inhibitions,"
he says. "I told them, don't be afraid of judgments, we're all here together. Once I said that the whole crowd got into it. It was really dope."
Bass laughs recalling the Preauxx show. "He got everyone to stand up, and it was a great teaching experience for the students working the cameras — because people were
standing in their camera angles. So what do you do? You have to figure out a way to continue shooting and be thinking on your feet. We reflected on that as one of many great
learning experiences that the [concerts] give our students."
As of this school year, working on the Audubon house events is officially part of the Rhodes/Curb Institute curriculum. Though Bass and his student staff are still planning most of
2016's concerts, they will have a Jan. 15 set by Arkansas blues-rock outfit Tyrannosaurus Chicken, a March 18 performance from musician/producer Terry Manning and tentative
plans for a concert tie-in with Ardent Studios' 50th anniversary. Bass adds that they plan on opening the concerts, at least in part, to the general public this coming year.
In the process of working at the house, students at Rhodes have come to understand something more about Presley himself. "[The notion of] Elvis was really interesting in this,"
says Bass. "He's so critical to Memphis, yet for students coming in now, he's someone whose life is fairly removed from their own. He died 40 years ago — to an 18- to 21-year-old
kid, Elvis is a distant memory, a historical figure and not an active part of music and the city."
"But in connecting with the projects at the Audubon house, they see a different Presley. At the time he was a 21-year-old trying to be cool, creative, do great things and make it.
And we're sitting in a college with a bunch of 20- to 21-year-olds, who are trying to be cool, creative and do the same important things. When we keyed on that story, that's when
the connections were made; it became more applicable to their lives going forward. In this house, Elvis was a young person trying to be creative. We want to use it as a space for
young people to be creative today."