BLOCH ARENA MARCH 25, 1961.
In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower signed Public Law 85-344 that allowed the PWMC to raise money on the Navy’s behalf for the construction of a memorial to the Arizona. Several designs were considered before architect Alfred Preis’s plan to build a concave marble bridge that straddled the wreck was selected. A fundraising goal of $500,000 was set and the initial response from the public was promising.
The concert was produced by Al Dvorin and also featured the Jordanaires and Minnie Pearl, and 100 percent of the $62,000 in proceeds were donated to the USS Arizona Memorial Fund. The event was Elvis' last live, non-movie performance until his 1968 television special.
An episode of the popular TV series This is Your Life dedicated to Medal of Honor recipient Rear Admiral Samuel Fuqua sounded the initial call for donations, generating $95,000. However, the project quickly stalled as donations dried up. By the start of 1960, only $155,000 had been raised. The drive was in desperate need of a swift and hard kick.
“Colonel” Tom Parker read about the struggling campaign in a newspaper and spotted an opportunity. As Elvis Presley’s manager, he was eager to get a bit of positive publicity for his client who had been out of circulation for a couple years after being drafted into the U.S. Army. Parker surmised that a benefit concert for the USS Arizona Memorial would raise much-needed awareness of the fundraising campaign while also demonstrating that Elvis still had drawing power. Elvis was not only pleased to be able to perform for an audience, he was a patriot who genuinely believed in the cause and wanted to help.
The PWMC accepted Elvis’ generous offer and began making arrangements with the Navy to use the 4,000 seat Bloch Arena at Pearl Harbor as the venue for the concert. It was the same arena that had hosted the “Battle of Music” the evening prior to the attack in 1941. The “Battle of Music” was a spirited competition to determine the best ship band in the Pacific Fleet. Although they had been eliminated from contention, the band from Arizona was present and played dance music for the attendees. They would never perform again. The entire band was killed in the explosion on the ship the next morning.
With the venue secured and the show scheduled for March 25, 1961, Parker set ticket prices ranging from $3 to $100 and announced that everyone would have to buy a ticket to see the show. Rank usually has its privileges but Parker seemed to take pleasure in rebuffing admirals and generals who approached him about complimentary tickets. When he said everyone had pay, he meant everyone had to pay. Even the performers. Elvis bought a $100 ticket for himself then bought dozens more to give to staff and patients at a military hospital.
To reduce out of pocket expenses, Parker tried to sell networks the rights to broadcast the concert as a television special but was unable to secure an agreement. Fortunately, Paramount signed Elvis to star in “Blue Hawaii” which paid for him and his entourage to relocate to Honolulu for the filming of the movie which coincided with the benefit concert.
At 12:15 p.m. the plane carrying Presley touched down in Honolulu, and at 12:27 Elvis, wearing a black suit and a ruffled white shirt, appeared at the rear door. "For 10 minutes the handsome lad with the baby blue eyes passed in review," reported a local newspaper. A cordon of Honolulu and military police between him and the fans. Some of them looked as though they were ready to tear him limb for limb, and take home the pieces for souvenirs . . .
It is apparent that Elvis did not view the concert as merely a career enhancing photo opportunity. He came prepared to give the audience the best performance he could. He brought a talented band including several members from a group of accomplished session musicians known as the “Nashville A-Team.” Guitarist Hank Garland, bassist Bob Moore, pianist Floyd Cramer and saxophonist Boots Randolph (whose “Yakety Sax” has become synonymous with comedian Benny Hill) joined Elvis’ regular drummer DJ Fontana and guitarist Scotty Moore. Moore was no stranger to Pearl Harbor, having spent time there while serving in the Navy years earlier. The show would also include performances by the local comedic act Sterling Mossman, Elvis’ backing vocal group the Jordanairs and Grand Old Opry star Minnie Pearl.
After a brief introduction by Rear Admiral Robert Campbell of the 14th Naval District, Elvis took the stage as hundreds of teenagers screeched in excitement. The King looked resplendent in his signature gold lame jacket with silver sequin lapels. He let out a brief screech of his own in response to the ecstatic audience before launching into his hit “Heartbreak Hotel.” All accounts state that Elvis was in peak form, giving an enthusiastic and energetic performance that included favorites “All Shook Up,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight” and “It’s Now or Never.” He finished the show with a rollicking version of “Hound Dog” during which he slid across the stage on his knees. The 15 song set and 45 minutes of stage time were among the longest of his career. The concert would also be his last for 8 years.
The benefit was a resounding success. Ticket sales accounted for $47,000 with additional donations ($5,000 coming from Elvis) pushing the total take to over $60,000. Funding for the memorial was still well short of its target but the electricity of Elvis had generated the jumpstart the campaign needed. Money began to flow from other sources. The combination of public funds and private donations (including $40,000 from Revelle raised through sale of model kits of the Arizona) reached the goal of $500,000 by September, 1961 – just 5 months after the concert. Construction on the memorial was completed by the end of the year.
The USS Arizona Memorial was officially dedicated on May 30, 1962. Elvis certainly took pride in his role in building a permanent memorial to the crew of the Arizona and made several visits to the site on subsequent trips to Hawaii. The memorial has reached its own iconic status and welcomes 1.5 million visitors a year.
Elvis did not forget the Arizona, and the Navy did not forget Elvis. When Elvis passed away in 1977, the Navy showed its gratitude by placing a wreath for him at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.
The concert was only his second live performance in more than three years
Following an afternoon press event, Elvis headed to the Bloch Arena, where 4,000 fans packed in to see him that night. There, he appeared onstage in his famous gold lamé suit jacket. He'd first worn the suit in 1957; this concert was the last time he'd perform while wearing it.
After being discharged from the army, Elvis had done a benefit in Memphis but otherwise hadn't sung at a live concert in years. But there was no hesitation as he began to croon —and he was mesmerizing. The song list featured 15 of his biggest hits, including "All Shook Up," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight." His final song was "Hound Dog."
The crowd's screams made it hard to hear the music at times. Fortunately, Elvis seemed to thrive on the charged atmosphere, while charming fans with his trademark smile. Unfortunately, no video recording was made of the event — Parker had tried to get NBC to produce a TV special of the concert, but the two parties hadn't been able to come to an agreement. As Elvis wouldn't perform live for eight years after the benefit, those in attendance were even luckier to get to see him.
The concert raised enough money to build the memorial
Elvis' concert raised more than $54,000 for the memorial fund, with Elvis also making a separate donation. On March 30, Hawaii's House of Representatives passed Resolution 105 to thank him and Parker for the services they'd provided.
Even more important than the amount that was immediately raised, Elvis' actions drew fresh attention to the USS Arizona Memorial Fund. After the benefit, more money arrived from both the public sector and private sources, and the memorial was soon under construction. It was dedicated on May 30, 1962.
Elvis was always proud of the help he'd offered. He stopped by the memorial for the first time in 1965, placing a wreath on the monument during his visit. And Elvis made his way to the memorial on other trips to Hawaii, including when he brought Priscilla Presley there during their marriage.
The Honolulu Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaii). Monday, 27 March, 1961.
Presley Fans Crash Sound Barrier Here
By BUCK BUCHWACH
The Elvis Presley performance Saturday night was more than just a boffo extravaganza for the 5.000 persons who contributed $52,000 to the USS Arizona memorial.
The Bloch Arena spectacle was a wonderful laboratory for the study of mass hysteria, evidenced throughout by shrieking, stomping, yelling, whistling and screaming. When I say throughout, I mean through out. Mr. Presley sang ─ belted, that is ─ about 18 songs during the hour that he was on. The rabid Elvis fans (there aren't any other kind) devoured every moment that he was on, and they crashed the sound barrier before, during and after every number.
THERE WERE several hundred persons in the audience who weren't Elvis fans, but came to the show ─ let's face it ─ in spite of Elvis. These were the citizens who wanted to contribute money to the Pacific War Memorial Commission but felt it would be cowardly not to attend after buying tickets. And some came just to see the hottest commercial attraction in the entertainment industry ─ to try to discover how King Elvis got his crown, and why he makes 10 times as much money per year as the President of the United States.
THE REACTION of these people is significant. Not a single one of the score we interviewed after the show had anything but praise for Presley, in spite of any pre-show bias against him. Take Walter F. Dillingham. As he ambled to his waiting limousine after the performance, he said he thought the show was "tremendous." "I like spirit on occasion," he smiled. "But the constant screaming took away some of the beauty of Elvis' singing." Morley Theaker, boss man of Sears, who handled ticket sales for the Presley benefit show, said: "Presley was a terrific performer. If our screaming people would have let him sing, the audience would have enjoyed it more." Ditto for George Q. Cannon, president of Dairymen's, and Alex Anderson, the business magnate who is also one of Hawaii's top musical composers.
TO US, the incredible screaming and yelling are what create the Elvis phenomenon. Elvis is a musical Messiah. For his fans, he has an animal magnetism that communicates itself more strongly than any entertainer we've ever seen or heard. As a onetime press agent for both Johnnie Ray and Frank Sinatra, let me say that Elvis drives his fans to frenetic response the other reaction - producers couldn't approach. In that field, he is to them as a DC-8 jet is to a DC-4 prop job. For those of you who have a pre-conceived notion about Elvis, let it be noted he's much more handsome, much more appealing, much more likeable, and a much better entertainer in person ─ even with that gold lame dinner jacket, sequins and all ─ than on records, over TV, and in movies.
BUT THE MOST fascinating aspect of his performance is his ability to drive his fans into delirious vocal ecstatics with a crook of his finger, a wiggle of his hand, a shake of his hips, a walk across the stage, a wink of his eye. This is an almost dictatorial control of the mass audience, which he wields over his disciples even when they' can't hear the lyrics of such major contributions to American music as "Hound Dog" and "Heartbreak Hotel."
"I think it's appropriate that he should be doing this."
Setting a fundraising goal for the show, Parker added, "There's no excuse for Elvis to leave this island without his raising $50,000."
Shortly after Colonel Parker returned to Los Angles, he announced a couple of changes in the benefit concert's schedule and seating arrangements. The show date was moved a day earlier to Saturday, March 25. Also, the 'ringside' $100 ticket section was expanded from 100 to 300 seats.
It also occurred to Parker that Elvis could perform the benefit concert in Honolulu before filming of his next movie began there in March 1961. After getting the OK from Elvis, Parker began making plans.
On Monday, March 20, 1961, five days before the Pearl Harbor show, Elvis reported to Paramount studio in Hollywood to begin work on Blue Hawaii. On the same day, his single release of 'Surrender' reached #1 on Billboard's Hot 100. It was Elvis' fourth straight #1 record in less than a year.
The morning of March 25, 1961, Elvis boarded a Pan American Airways jet in Los Angeles to start what he knew would be a long, tiring day for him. Even before the plane took off from LA, an estimated crowd of 3,000 began gathering at Honolulu International Airport to greet Elvis on his arrival.
The Queen of Country comedy on the King of Rock and Roll
The Honolulu Advertiser. Friday, March 24, 1961..jpg
An interview with Minnie Pearl ─ Bloch Arena, March 25, 1961, Hawaii.
By Shelly Ritter. (First published: Graceland Express, October-December edition, 1990)
Minnie Pearl - 1st from left - backstage in 1961 with other Opry stars including - from left : Wilma Lee Cooper, Jan Howard, Skeeter Davis, June Carter and Kitty Wells . . .
"I didn't know him well" she confided. Yet, from their brief encounters she formed some very keen and insightful impressions of Elvis . . . It struck me as fascinating that she, a major figure in country music history, was affected by Elvis, a major figure in rock and roll. The link between the two appears to have stemmed from her longtime friendship with the Colonel and the nature of her husband 's profession. A portion of our conversation follows.
Minnie had met Elvis before they worked together in Hawaii. She vividly remembers her first introduction: "My husband (Henry Cannon) was a pilot. He flew Elvis when Elvis first started making appearances around the country. One afternoon he (Henry) called me and said, 'I'm coming to Memphis with Elvis ─ and I want you to meet him. He's going to show there tonight. Take an American, or some flight, and come down there and meet me.'
So, I knew about Elvis. Of course, everybody knew about him then. He was very big at that time; but I never had met him really. When I got to be with him was when Colonel Parker called me and said that they were going to Hawaii to finish raising the money to build the USS Arizona and would I go?? Well, of course . . . I went.
The plane that we all went to Hawaii on was supposed to leave at nine o'clock. We all met in the VIP room at 8:30. We had coffee in the VIP room and then we went out and got on the plane. I was just thrilled to death to be going. I had not been to Hawaii. Henry was with me and the Jordanaires, who backed Elvis at that point and at a lot of times.
Elvis' troop filled up the entire first class of that plane. I don't know how many people were along, with press and his entourage of people that he carried with him.
We all got down and were ready to go ─ and nothing happened. I was sitting in the aisle. We saw two empty seats up front. Nobody came. They held the plane and they held the plane . . . and finally General James Stewart and his wife got on and took the seats. We took off. We got out about an hour and Elvis came up and touched me and said, 'Miss Minnie, do you think it would be out of order if I go up and speak to General Stewart? I've always been such a fan of his.'
I said, 'Well, I think he would love it.' So Elvis went up to speak to the Stewarts. He knelt down in the aisle by General Jimmy Stewart and they had a little conversation. Then he came back.
Now, the reason I brought up that story about General Stewart is that this was typical of Elvis as I knew him. He would feel a hesitancy in bothering anybody. He was not aware, very obviously, of the fact that at that point he was probably the biggest thing in the nation.
Of course General Stewart was big too. This was some time after WWII; but General Stewart was still a big movie star and a big general in our service. It was so typical of Elvis to say, 'Do you think it would be out of order?' He was very polite.
Before we got off the plane, Colonel Parker came to me and he said, 'Now when we get off the plane, you stay with Elvis. I want you in all the pictures.'
Now, I didn't know what staying with Elvis involved. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have stayed with Elvis. so, we taxied up at the gate. They didn't have jetways then. You got off and went down the steps. Well . . . I never saw as many women in my life! There is no way to describe the pandemonium. They were screaming. They were yelling. They (Colonel Parker and the security) told Elvis for us to be the last to leave the plane. They (the women and the press) were taking pictures and everything. So when we got down off the plane, the minute Elvis made his appearance at the door of the plane, the screaming got even worse.
We got off the plane and the girls were still screaming. He was kind enough . . . I remember distinctly . . . He walked over and he signed a few autographs over the fence. They were screaming. I had never seen this.
We have boys now, and men, in the business ─ in our business and in the rock and roll business and all the show business forms ─ young men who have this reaction on women. They (the women) scream. They yell. They do all sorts of wild things. But this (the time in Hawaii) was the first that I'd ever seen and I was just horrified. I thought they were going to kill him. They would have if they could have gotten loose, I'm afraid.
When we got to the hotel, there were 500 screaming women there. We stayed at the Hawaiian Village. The police were standing there trying to keep the crowd back. They didn't have the fence there like they did at the airport so it was very dangerous. The police had this cordon of arms together holding the crowd back, but the crowd burst through when Elvis stepped out of the limo. These women, screaming women - all ages, they burst through the police and started grabbing at Elvis. Of course, that scared Colonel Tom Parker to death. They weren't after me. They didn't care anything about me, but they were after him. We finally escaped them and got inside.
We started up in the elevator and I said to Elvis, 'How do you stand that?' He had it everywhere he went. I knew that.
'I just got used to it,' he said. I said, 'You know those women could kill you.' 'They're not gonna hurt me,' he said. WeIl, what he didn't know was they probably would have hurt him if they had been able to get him. They called in more policemen of course.
He stayed in his room the whole time. We did the show that night. I never will forget that night. It was so exciting. The Jordanaires opened the show and then I worked. When it got time for Elvis to come out everyone was so excited. All the men and women were screaming. I watched him from the wings. He was at his peak. He was handsome and alive and exciting and just great. I guess Elvis must have sung over an hour, maybe more. Then we all went back to the hotel.
The next morning Colonel Parker called and asked Henry and me to come up to Elvis' suite and have some breakfast. When we came up to his suite there were at least five policemen stationed up there. They even had them stationed at the elevator all up and down the hall. He was so busy talking on the telephone with different people. Oh, it was so exciting to me! I had never been around a star that big. I had been in the business for twenty-some-odd years, but I had never been around a star that big. He couldn't leave the hotel except under heavy guard. I remember they told us about one woman who got in and was going to grab him. It was . . . it was incredible how they went wild over him.
I think he would be alive today, probably, if he had been allowed to mix and mingle with his fans. I think it was a great cross for him to bear that he couldn't get out and be with his fans. I think he loved his fans. I think that's why they loved him and still love him. I think fans are very conscious and sensitive to the tact that performers love them. I don't think that he was able, really, to perform a lot of times when he did. I worried about that - same way I did with Hank Williams, Sr. He (Williams) was one of my very best friends. I think there just comes a point where you are just too sick to perform and you should not be forced to do that. When people pay their money, they want to see you. That's the way it was with him. I like to remember him the way he was in Hawaii.
I can always remember that experience in Hawaii pleasantly on account of him (Elvis). I've been with certain stars; and I've been with the current stars. Some are caring and pay attention to their fans and to their fellow performers and some are too busy. Elvis never seemed too busy.
Sarah Ophelia Cannon (Minnie Pearl) born on October 25, 1912
died on March 4, 1996 at the age of 83.