The twentieth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s August 1977 death revealed that the King of Rock and Roll’s popularity remains high. Nebraskans may recall that Elvis performed in Omaha on June 19, 1977, and in Lincoln the next day, just weeks before he died. He also gave a concert in Omaha on June 30, 1974. Probably less well known are Presley’s May 19 and May 20, 1956, performances at the University of Nebraska Coliseum and in the Omaha auditorium, a year in which his rise to stardom was meteoric. Paul Means of the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star reported the May 19, 1956, concert under the headline, “3,000 Teen-Age Fans Scream for Presley.” An accompanying photo showed the singer being mobbed by teen-age girls.
Presley was dressed in a yellow sports coat with black stripes, a blue iridescent shirt, black pegged trousers, and, of course, his famous “ducktail.” Lincoln police had their hands full as frenzied fans mobbed the stage in an effort to touch Elvis. One girl knocked down the stage footlights while another grabbed a cord, disconnecting the sound system. When the concert ended, policemen had to escort Elvis to a waiting car.
In a postconcert interview, Presley characterized his music as “a little rock and roll and a little hillbilly,” and denied reports he wanted to be an author. “I don’t know too much more than how to write my name and anyone [who] says that I told them I was going to write a book is just plain crazy.” He didn’t think his singing was a bad influence on young people. “I don’t even smoke or drink,” Elvis said, “and I started singing as a gospel singer and come from a Christian home.”
If there were any Presley fans who attended both the 1956 and 1977 concerts, the contrast must have been great. The early performances featured a young Elvis, on the verge of becoming a world-renowned icon of the rock and roll generation. The final Nebraska concerts revealed a somewhat bloated, middle-aged Elvis, who had almost become a caricature of himself.