Bethel Springs, Tennessee--Once you know The King of Rock ’n’ Roll performed one of the first concerts of his illustrious career in your tiny hometown, what do you do with that? The people at Bethel Springs, Tennessee have an idea or two.
It is a well established fact that Elvis Presley played to a young audience at Bethel Spring School in the days immediately following the release of his first single on Memphis-based Sun Records. Presley recorded his first hit single, That’s Alright (Mama)/Blue Moon of Kentucky, at Sun in July 1954. The record was getting good airplay on regional radio, and Presley’s, now famous, performing style was receiving plenty of media attention, both positive and negative. His management felt it was time Presley got out of Memphis to promote the record and connect with his growing fandom. They booked him in places where an up and coming young talent could cut his teeth as a performer, and maybe make a few new converts for his infectious new sound. Bethel Springs was one such place.
Fast forward almost 70 years and you have the rise and untimely demise of The King of Rock ’n’ Roll in the rearview mirror, and the small town of Bethel Springs making plans to commemorate an event that marked a significant launching pad for Elvis Presley’s stratospheric rise to superstardom. “We just knew this concert was an historic event that happened in our community,” said Patricia Huggins, “but not much has been done to call attention to it.” Huggins and Judith Olson, two Bethel Springs natives, are numbered among a small group of locals who are trying to change that as part of McNairy County’s 2023 bicentennial celebration. The dedicated group quickly found important allies in a team of researchers working with Arts in McNairy.
By sheer coincidence, Arts in McNairy has recently undertaken an ambitious program to document various features of the county’s cultural history. The study just happened to coincide with the Bethel Springs group’s desire to memorialize the Presley concert in their town. When Huggins and Olson contacted AiM representatives to inquire about resources, a partnership and plan quickly came together.
The combined group will hold a meeting, 1:00 p.m. February 25th at Bethel Springs City Hall. The team will be interviewing those who were eye witness to the Presley concert and others who may have corroborating information, in a fun and informal setting. Artifacts, personal accounts, and remembrances are being sought to offer ironclad documentation that will assist the Bethel Springs group in planning for a bicentennial commemoration. Initial discussions revolve around installation of an historical marker and perhaps a public ceremony of some kind. “We’ve always known this was a significant performance in Elvis’s career,” Olson explained, “but we would like his fans, the world over, to know it too.”
Anyone with helpful information is invited to attend the upcoming meeting. Arts in McNairy may be contacted at: [email protected] or (731) 435-3288, for questions about the session, or to provide information and promising leads about the Presley concert at Bethel Springs. Information may also be exchanged by using the comments section below.