Viva ‘The King’: Tribute artists on what Elvis Presley meant to them on the 40th anniversary of his death
From Memphis to Manila, tens of thousands have participated in tributes to say thank you very much to the King of Rock’n’Roll
Celebrations and commemorations are taking place around the world for Elvis Presley, who died 40 years ago today at his Memphis mansion, Graceland.
From Memphis to Manila, tens of thousands have participated in tributes to say thank you very much to the King of Rock’n’Roll. Born to a poor family in Tupelo, Mississippi, the hip-shaking crooner was found dead in Graceland, age 42.
About 30,000 people are expected to attend a vigil at Graceland’s Meditation Garden where Elvis and his family members are buried. It was the first time that people were charged to attend the night-time vigil, which ran from last night until this morning.
More than 400 official fan clubs are holding tributes this month.
Douglas Masuda, president of the Elvis Presley Friendship Club, Philippines International, is overseeing two events in Manila. Young Once vs Young Ones pitted two generations of Elvis tribute artists against each other on Thursday. On Saturday, the club will host its first annual Elvis of Asia competition. More than 32 participants from Japan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines will face-off two rounds to compete for a trip to Graceland. One Australian will also compete.
Masuda, a retired lawyer, started his second career as an Elvis tribute artist in 2007 at age 64, after his wife entered him into a competition.
Masuda is Japanese but was born in Arkansas during the Second World War. During the war, his family were repatriated to Japan but later returned to the US to live in California. Masuda first saw Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show performing Don’t Be Cruel.
“My sister had that record and she played it all day and all night,” says Masuda. “He’s an original. I know Elvis feels it and that’s the difference between him and all the other entertainers.”
For his first competition, his wife spent two week sewing until dawn to make his costume. Now, his friend Robert Torres helps him to make jumpsuits covered in up to 3,000 rhinestones sewn on by hand. “We are very meticulous,” says Torres, who is the club’s corporate secretary and special projects director. A jumpsuit takes an average of two months to finish.
“Elvis is one unique person,” says Torres. “He’s talented, good looking, and one thing that I like for him, he helped people. He helped people discretely. Only when he died did we know all his activities helping people. His music makes me very inspired, it makes me very religious, it makes me want to work for more.”
It has been a busy month for tribute artists.
“It’s not a caricature, it’s a faithful rendition of Elvis’s music,” says Sal Bashir, a tribute artist from London who has been touring the UK this month for commemorations to mark the singer’s death. “Although I replicate the music onstage faithfully in the vocals, I try to bring my own personality and charisma onstage, making it a tribute.”
“In other words, I’m promoting Elvis’s music, I’m not pretending to be Elvis. There’s only going to be one Elvis. The man is a genius and the most important pop icon there ever was.”
Born and raised in East London, Bashir had a series of nine-to-five managerial jobs in central London until he decided to quit his day job to commit to Elvis full-time in 1998. “The passion was burning, the burning desire was deep inside,” he says. “It’s provided a living for me and my family, a roof over my head. It gives me a nice, comfortable lifestyle and it’s because of Elvis really.”
Bashir credits his powerful vocals to his late father, who loved to sing Hindi and Punjabi songs. Today, Bashir perfroms across the UK and internationally, wearing GI uniforms, black leather and the suave suits of the 1960s.
“I don’t wear jumpsuits. I just don’t like them,” he says. “A lot of tribute artists they wear them, they look good; that’s what they like. If they look good in a jumpsuit, that’s fine. But if they are discrediting Elvis in his prime by looking awful and out of shape and sweaty, then I have a problem with that. Then it becomes a joke.”
Elvis’s sincerity made him an international name, says Bashir. “What I like about Elvis on a personal basis is that he never was political in the public. He never brought politics into his music so that made him acceptable to everybody.”
Updated: August 16, 2017 09:57 AM