Elvis Comes Fifth in Talent Show

Ten-year-old Elvis, second from right and wearing glasses, with talent show winners
Ten-year-old Elvis, second from right and wearing glasses, with talent show winners

by Ray Setterfield

Event Date: October 3, 1945
Location: Tupelo, Mississippi, USA

In his first known public musical performancs, Elvis Presley appeared in a talent show on this day. He was ten years old.

Standing on a chair at a microphone, he sang “Old Shep” at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, held in Tupelo. The show was broadcast over WELO Radio, though no recording of it now exists.

Some reports say that he came second and won a prize of five dollars in fair-ride tickets. Interviewed years later, however, Elvis recalled that he came fifth and his most vivid memory of the day was receiving “a whipping from my Mama” for misbehaving.

A photograph taken of some of the contestants seems to bear out his recollection of the result. Wearing glasses, Elvis is standing empty-handed next to two other youngsters, both proudly clutching a trophy.

His next known public performance was on 6 November 1948 when he played guitar and sang Leaf On A Tree as a farewell to his fellow students at Milam Junior School in Tupelo. The poverty-stricken Presleys then packed their belongings into a trunk, strapped it to the roof of their 1939 Plymouth car, and headed for Memphis, Tennessee, in search of a better life.

Notoriously shy, Elvis could still be persuaded to perform and in 1953 he nervously sang in a student talent show at Humes High School in Memphis – his next step on the educational ladder. Much to his own amazement, he received more applause than anyone else and won, then performed an encore.

Soon after, he called at the Memphis Recording Service, home of the Sun label and made a private demo acetate of “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” at a cost of about four dollars. Elvis wanted to hear what his voice sounded like on a record. He took the acetate home and gave it to his mother as a birthday present.

When Sam Phillips, owner of the studio, heard the recording, he called the boy in to hear more. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Published: September 1, 2016

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