Interview with Ann Ellington, daughter of Tennessee Gov. Buford Ellington.
On February 25, 1961 - Elvis appeared in Memphis at a luncheon in his honor, and numerous recent awards Elvis has received are shown to the press and others attending. A press conference follows'. Elvis Presley Day' is proclaimed by Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington.
On the same day, Elvis performs one afternoon show and one evening show at Ellis Auditorium to benefit around thirty-eight Memphis-area charities. Other than the Sinatra television show, these shows are, so far, Elvis' only live performances since his army discharge.
Every year after this, (And before) Elvis donates money to a list of Memphis-area charities, eventually reaching fifty or more, usually around Christmas time. Within a few years, to show their appreciation the city gives him a massive plaque listing fifty charities
On March 8, 1961, Elvis addressed the Tennessee State Legislature.
Q : Tell us about your father's friendship with Elvis. How did that start?
A : Well, I don't know exactly when it began initially, but I know that every Christmas right before the Christmas season, Colonel Tom Parker or Elvis or one of his administrations would send a check or ask for how much money would we need to fund some donations to orphanages and homes that needed some extra Christmas gifts. And he would send us, 'Tell me what you want,' and that was one of the gracious things about him was, and he'd send a check, and Dad would make sure that it was positioned appropriately and at various homes where the use of that money could be spent wisely for the children. So that's how I think Dad initially became affiliated, and the friendship continued to grow because both of 'em were born in Mississippi. Both had similar backgrounds to begin with. Dad was born in outside of Lexington, Mississippi, and which isn't that far from Tupelo. Both came to Tennessee, and both became famous in their own right, here in Tennessee.
Q : So there are some great parallels there between your dad and Elvis.
A : Oh, very definitely, a lot of parallels there, 'cause my dad studied to be a minister, and did have a little church there in Mississippi, and grew up with gospel music. And I know Elvis loved gospel music. And I think that's one of the areas that for me he really shined, because I loved to hear his gospel music.
Q : Tell us how you first met Elvis.
A : Oh dear. That is a funny story, in a way. I was in college, about 30 miles west of here, Middle Tennessee State University. I skipped classes that day, and of course it had been all over the newspapers, television, you know, that he was comin' to make an appearance. The appearance was staged by the Memphis delegation to the legislature, and to applaud Elvis for all the work he had done not only in creating or putting Tennessee on the map for music, but also for the tourism factor that my father was hoping to be able to build and build and build so that we could go from Memphis to middle Tennessee to east Tennessee. So this was for him to be acknowledged for the work that he had done. And I think it was a Tuesday morning, and so I left Murfreesboro and drove in. And, if you've never been to the state capital and seen the Governor's suite there of offices, there's like an anteroom that is a pretty good size room, then there are two separate rooms for the secretarial staff, and my dad's office at that time, and then there's a large conference room that had an enormous table.
And when we got there, the Jordanaires were present and they were seated around the table; at the far end of the table was the little side door that was kind of a private entrance into the Governor's suite of offices. And then my dad was sitting at the opposite end of the table. We had been sitting in there for quite some time waiting for Elvis and his entourage to arrive. There were people everywhere. The whole capital hill was filled with cars and people standin' outside waiting to get a glance of this car pulling in and the Elvis Presley getting out of the car. And oddly enough, of course, not really so, the women outnumbered the men in that case.
So, we were sitting around the table and talking about the various things that the Jordanaires had been doing, and we had security at the doors to keep the press from barging into the office. Things were a lot less guarded back then than they are now. And all of a sudden, Hoyt, who was kind of a clown in this group, he said, 'I know what we'll do'. And they were all looking at him. And he says, 'The minute Elvis walks in the door,' he says, 'Ann, I want you to stand up and swoon, and I'll go over here and open the door to the anteroom and the press will see you fainting at his presence'. And I said, I looked at my father and my father was saying, 'Mmm, I don't think so'. And so, about that time the door opened.
And here this entity was standing in the doorway, this black suit on, and every hair immaculately combed. And it just, there was absolutely a dead silence in the room. It was just like somebody had sucked all of the air out of it. And he came in and stood behind a chair, and Dad got up and walked around and shook hands with him, and he sat down at the end of the table. And there was a lot of chat what was going on and what was coming up in the future. And then the sergeant-at-arms from the legislature, they were meeting in a joint session, which meant that the Senate and the House of Representatives all came together in the House of Representatives. And the galleries were filled with people screaming. And, the sergeant-of-arms came down and said it was time for Daddy and Elvis and the Jordanaires to go on upstairs to the legislature. Elvis at that time came up and sat down next to me. And, several pictures were made there. And when the sergeant-of-arms says, 'Okay, time to go,' he says, 'You're going, aren't you?' And I said, 'No, I'm not gonna be a part of this'. And he says, 'Yeah, I need for you to go'. And I said, 'I don't think I'm supposed to go. There's not seats arranged up there for me, and seats were a premium, believe me'. And he said, 'Yeah, you've got to go'. He grabs my hand, and Dad gives the nod, it's okay, go ahead, you know. And here we go, out through the crowd, down the hallway, up the steps, and then into the opening, and the Speaker of the House, Mr. James Bomar announced that Elvis Presley would be presented to the House of Representatives.
And we came on in and I sat on the front row along with the sergeant-of-arms and several other people, and Dad came up to the podium and made his remarks. And then Elvis came up and of course the people just went bananas. You could hardly hear him because of the screaming. And Mr. Bomar would gavel, you know, quietness, and it just wasn't gonna work. So finally Elvis got up and he made his few remarks and told the audience that he was not gonna be able to sing, and that was such a disappointment to the crowd. And then Dad presented the Jordanaires, and they came up to the podium and stood behind him. So after that was the first time I had ever met him. I think he was about as nervous as I was, in that kind of a group, 'cause my parents kept my brother and I pretty much kinda outta the limelight. And to be in that kind of a situation was really kind of nerve-wracking. Then after it was over, then we came back downstairs to the Dad's office.
Q : Do you remember what Elvis spoke about?
A : Oh, just thanking the Memphis delegation and for bringing him to Nashville. And, for the honor of becoming a Colonel, which was a big deal then, you got a badge and a big certificate that was framable, and, for the good things that he had done for the state of Tennessee.
Q : So did you get to have some nice chats with Elvis or anything of that nature?
A : Yeah, One of the people that he wanted to meet while he was up at that particular time was a gentleman by the name of Johnny Bragg. Johnny was incarcerated at the Tennessee State Prison at that time. And John had a group called the Prisonaires, who sang a lot of gospel songs, incredibly talented people. And there were times when we had state functions at the state, at the Governor's residence, that we would have them come out and perform. And because of their mutual love of music, Elvis wanted to meet him. So my dad arranged for, Elvis and Joe and Alan to go out to the state prison and meet, have time with Johnny Bragg. And we drove out there and the warden at that time came out to meet the car. And we started to get out to get in, and the warden says, 'I'm sorry, but Ann can't come in'. And so Joe and Elvis went inside to meet with Johnny, and Alan, bless his heart, got the chore of sitting in the car with me while all of this was going on inside. Both of us would love to have heard the conversation, but we weren't allowed to do that.
Q : After Elvis came out of the penitentiary with the guys, would you ever be able to go to a movie with Elvis?
A : We came back to the Governor's residence and stayed there for a while, and had some refreshments and talked, and everything was a little kinda awkward, you know, first time, and being in the Governor's residence and that kinda thing. And then he turned and said goodbye and headed off to Memphis.
And came back in the next weekend.
Q : So you had been a fan of Elvis prior to your meeting him?
A : Oh, absolutely. I don't know of anybody who wasn't a fan of Elvis' during that time. His music was so innovative and it covered so much area. He could sing anything. And young people absolutely-- And remarkably enough, there was something about his music that I don't think anyone has ever put a label to or a finger on that the adults enjoyed his music as much as the young people did. And I think that's a phenomenon.
Q : Were you nervous around Elvis, or did he put you at ease really quick?
A : At first I was somewhat nervous around him. I mean the persona was so immense, you know. The Elvis Presley. And then it didn't take long though, when he became comfortable with you, that all of that just dissipated. And it was just like you had known him forever.
Q : So he came back the next week. Did he visit with you and your dad again?
A : He came in to Nashville to record. And he had called ahead and asked if I was going to be in town, and if it were possible for us to get together some time during that period. And when he arrived, he came out to the residence. And at that time the security staff was up on the main level, so you had a uniformed highway patrolman opening the door. And Elvis came in and he thought that was so neat, you know.
And we had the better part of that evening there at the residence, just the two of us in one of the small living rooms downstairs to talk and reminisce about Mississippi and talk about the movies that he had done, what he was going to do, a lot of the things that he particularly, along the music line, songs that he wanted to sing. And my parents were upstairs, and, so about two o'clock there was a knock on the door and the Sergeant who was on duty at that time, said, 'Miss Ann', he says, 'The Governor's just called down and says he thinks it's time for the gentleman to go'.
And, you have to remember that this was back '61, and so Elvis got up and said, 'Well, I'll see you tomorrow evening'. And I said, 'Well, I have to check on that'. And that, he was going into record. And yes, I did go with him to watch him record. But the funny thing about it was, after he left, then the two patrolmen were absolutely rolling on the floor laughing, and I couldn't figure out why. And then the Sergeant told me, 'Well, that wasn't exactly what your father said. What he said was, it was time for the Hound Dog to go'.
Q : You mentioned that Elvis talked to you about the movies he was gonna make. Did he tell you anything in detail about what type of movies he wanted to make?
A : I think the one thing that he was striving toward was he wanted to get in to, get his teeth into something that really had, a large range of acting, that he could draw on. He wanted somethin' that was really indepth, to get away from some of the little sing-song type things that he had been doing, and unfortunately was to do later on too. But he really was I think very serious that he wanted to get into somethin' that really could prove that the talent he knew he had, the talent that those around him knew he had, he could definitely show. And, so it was more or less, you know, hopin' to get scripts. He wanted to get scripts that would show that quality.
Q : Did Elvis talk about the movies that he had been making that he was disillusioned with, as they started having more songs and more formula?
A : I don't recall that, you know, he got that technical about it. I just know that I think he realized that each movie was a stepping stone. You learn from the previous one what you wanted to do or what you hoped to attain in the next one. And everything was like a growth step for him. And, it's kinda seemed like, as far as my perspective, that those steps were not fast enough for him. He had too many of the smaller steps and he wanted some big major ones.
Q : So when you went to the recording studio, was it RCA Studio here in Nashville?
A : Yes. Down on 16th.
Q : Tell us about going to RCA Studio B with Elvis.
A : We went to the RCA Studio that was there on 16th. That was quite an undertaking also, because I had to be, kinda camouflaged and brought in. It wasn't that we were trying to hide my presence there, but he was trying to protect me. That was one of the qualities that was endearing of him, was that he realized that I was in a position where the newspaper and the media were always trying to find out what you were doing. And he was so-- it was a matter of protection. When we got time for us to leave the Governor's residence, I always had a highway patrolman with me, drove me over to the motel where Elvis was staying. And then we switched cars, and then I would go to the studio with him. And then when everything in the parking lot was kinda quiet and nobody was there, then we would run in. And, then usually it was, you know, 10:30, 11 o'clock at night when things would really start to begin to perform there, getting everybody set up. And then we would be there till early in the morning, then go get some breakfast, or come back to the resident. And then he'd turn around and head back for Memphis.
Q : Did he record any songs to you in the studio, singing to you?
A : Yes, I was very fortunate to be able to go inside actually, the recording studio itself, and kinda sit off to the side or the back. He kinda always wanted me where he could see me or at least acknowledge that I was standing behind him. And they were playing tricks on each other, and he must've had enough Juicy Fruit gum with him to stock a store, because it was just goin' everywhere.
But those were interesting, because so many of the studio performers at that time, Floyd Cramer and so many others, I had the opportunity to meet because I was with Elvis.
Q : So he more or less had you as an inspiration to sing some songs there.
A : Oh. To hear his music was phenomenal. There was a quality about 'em that just would pull you inside.
Q : Do you remember any of those songs he recorded that day?
A : Oh, one that I got to hear before he actually recorded it was 'Can't Help Falling in Love'. And I always like to think that that was my song, because I got to hear it before it actually became part of the movie. But, like I keep going back to the gospel music, because I think that's really where his love for music obviously began. But I think it's also where he felt comfortable, was with the gospel music.
Q : I know you were good friends with Elvis, but how did it feel being a young lady and Elvis was taking a liking to you? Millions of girls in the world would've liked Elvis' attention, just to sit down and talk with him, and there you were.
A : I think that our relationship perhaps was a little unique. It wasn't that I was trying to impress him, and he obviously didn't feel the need to impress me either. We came from similar backgrounds, we both pretty well knew where life was going to take us. And it wasn't that I was trying to create a spot in his life for me. We enjoyed each other. We enjoyed our friendship. I always knew that if I ever needed him, at any point in time, that all I had to do was pick up the phone and call and he would be there.
He came into my life at a time that was very crucial for me. When Dad got involved in politics, it took a 13-year-old girl from a farm life and put me in a place that I was not accustomed to, was not prepared for. Elvis had the same kind of situation, just in a different world. He helped me adjust to the situation that I was living in, more than anybody else in the world. I really don't know, and I can't even imagine what would've happened to me or how I would have adjusted during those years had it not been the fact that we could sit down and I could tell him things that I'd never told anybody else, get reactions how to deal with situation, how not to let hurts really get to you so bad that you couldn't deal with 'em. He had already experienced so much of that, and I was just beginning it. So in many ways, he was a very important factor in my life.
Q : So you really felt a kinship with Elvis.
A : Oh, absolutely. I think any female who had an opportunity to sit down and meet him, just even for five minutes, you find a love for him that words cannot describe. But maybe in our case, I don't know how to exactly express this, but I wasn't looking to be an affair or in a fling or a romantic situation. I think all girls at that age have that feeling. But it was a momentary thing that developed into a lasting friendship that I feel very very blessed to have had.
Q : A lot has been said about Elvis' charisma. What do you think there is about Elvis that made him so unique?
A : I don't know if anybody could ever put a name to it. There was just an aura about him that for an instant he just absolutely consumed the area that he was in and everybody that was in it. It was a look, it was a demeanor about him, the way he held himself. The way he would look at you eye to eye when he talked to you. He made you feel like that you were the most important person in the world for that moment. And you walked away with that feeling.
Q : How important do you think Elvis was in the development of Tennessee, bringing businesses in and so forth? Do you think he had a role in that?
A : Elvis Presley was probably the biggest thing that helped Tennessee pull in recording companies and movie companies to come to Tennessee and see what we have to offer. We're such a diverse state that you can go from the flatlands in Memphis and west Tennessee into the rolling hills of middle Tennessee and to mountainous areas up in east Tennessee. We had a lot to offer. And his notoriety and the fact that he loved Tennessee so much, I think was the opening of the door for tourism, for commercial ventures to come to Tennessee. So he played a very instrumental role.
Q : Did you get to see Elvis perform in concert?
A : Yes. He appeared at Middle Tennessee State University in concert. And my husband knew I wanted to go. And he put two tickets on to my pegboard in my kitchen without me knowing it. And I just totally overlooked 'em. I didn't see them there. And so the following day he says, 'Have you looked at the pegboard recently?' And there were the two tickets. And so we got to go. We were way in the back because it was sold out the minute that the concert was even announced. And it was amazing to sit and watch him work the audience. It was amazing to see the response that he got from people all ages. It was a sight that it was phenomenal.
Q : Where were you when you found out he had passed away?
A : I was in a doctor's office. When I heard it over the loudspeaker, the radio, the music that was hooked into the office. And was absolutely devastated. That somebody so young, so talented, had so much to give, had been taken from us.
Q : In your opinion, why do you think that he's more loved and respected than it seems like he ever was?
A : I think... there was something in Elvis that everybody could identify with, whether it was his background, whether it was the music, whether it was the talent, that was there, everybody could identify with some something that they found in him. Also I think it's just one of those rare times that he was in our lives. That... people just could live through him.