Elvis Presley’s untimely death 41 years ago Thursday – Aug. 16, 1977, to be precise – at age 42 shocked the world and it is still something we hear about today.
I woke up Thursday morning seeing countless Facebook posts about Elvis’ death. The impact he had on our culture is evident.
On two of my favorite TV shows as a child, one of the characters idolized and tried to emulate Elvis. There was Uncle Jesse on “Full House,” who was trying to break into the music business and take after Elvis, right down to the hair. The Fonz on “Happy Days” was known for being the coolest and made countless references toward Elvis.
For all we have seen nationwide, what Elvis’ legacy specifically did for Clarksdale is something that will last forever. Not just because he is from Tupelo, where he has a Mississippi Blues Trail marker, nor his Graceland mansion in Memphis where he is buried and fans gathered Thursday.
Elvis’ accomplishments led to many things that you see every time you come through Clarksdale.
The first thing that popped into my mind was Elvis’ influence on Roger Stolle, who has owned Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art in downtown Clarksdale since 2002, and co-founded the Juke Joint Festival.
Stolle was living in Dayton, Ohio, when Presley died and he became a blues fan the very next day – on Aug. 17, 1977.
Stolle is helping keep the blues alive in Clarksdale by making sure there are countless musicians at clubs seven nights a week. He has brought many festivals to Clarksdale during his 16 years living here.
With everything Stolle has done for our community, one could argue none of it would have been accomplished if not for Elvis.
One of Stolle’s missions when coming to Clarksdale was to help bring back the blues before it became a ghost town.
Just as Elvis is remembered, hopefully, many of our blues musicians will be part of history after we’re long gone. We saw the late Josh “Razorblade” Stewart’s family receive an award for his accomplishments at the recent Sunflower Blues and Gospel Festival. That tells me we are doing the best we can to preserve history.
And Elvis, as much as any musician, is an example of how to do it.
You can also learn about Elvis Presley at the Rock & Blues Museum, which Theo Dasbach helped open. The museum has a little bit of everything from 1920-’80. No matter what your reason is for going to the museum, you’re likely to learn a little something about Elvis.
We have countless museums in Coahoma County, including the Delta Blues Museum. I believe, in some ways, Elvis is one of the reasons we are able to preserve history as well as we are. He may be what inspires blues musicians to come to this part of the country and, at the very least, stop in Clarksdale.
Elvis’ legacy helps keep some of the best local blues clubs, including Ground Zero Blues Club and Red’s Lounge, thriving on a regular basis.
History has been a key to preserving Clarksdale, even with a dwindling population and shrinking economic base. People still come here festival after festival just to see what Clarksdale has to offer.
I believe not forgetting our roots has been a huge key to the success we have seen with tourism. Elvis is one of our roots with his love for the blues and inspiration to many 41 years after his death.
A whole generation of which I am a part of (I was born June 30, 1978, less than one year after his death) did not grow up with Elvis, yet he has been part of our daily lives with his music.
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died 41 years to day after Elvis Presley on Thursday. We will see her remembered nationwide 41 years from now, but she will never have the same imprint on Clarksdale that Elvis did.
I do not know what the future holds here in Clarksdale when it comes to the blues, but I did find one Elvis Presley quote that was appropriate.
“Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity.”
We are going through adversity in many ways in Clarksdale, but if we keep that mentality, we will continue moving forward.