His classmates recall Elvis becoming more and more determined to be himself, or a different "self." In his senior year of high school he started wearing a black bolero jacket purchased at Lansky's and a pair of dress pants with a stripe down the side, was constantly messing with his hair - combing it, mussing it up, training it, brushing the sides back and quite uninterested or unknowing of the attention he was getting from teachers and fellow students. One time he came to school with a home permanent and asked others if he looked like Tony Curtis. One of his teachers, Miss Scrivener, wrote: "we had grown accustomed to those sideburns."
He would put a couple gallons of gas in the family old Lincoln and cruise around town by himself or with his cousin Gene or Bobbie, around to Leonard's Barbecue, to the drugstore where Gene worked and every afternoon he stopped by St. Joseph's to visit his mother at work. Once or twice he and Gene drove to Tupelo to visit old friends. A whole gang would go out to the colored district in Orange Mound on Sunday for the late show, which was for whites-only to watch people like Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Ivory Joe Hunter, Wynonie Harris, Dizzy Gillespie and local acts like Bobby "Blue" Band, Little Junior Parker, and the comedy team of Rufus (Thomas) and Bones.
Elvis by himself would venture out east to Overton Park, a 330-acre spot that housed the zoo, which was the same place he later recalled where he did his first concert. Elvis would go there and listen to the concerts that had big orchestras. He watched the conductor, listened to the music for hours alone. At that time he had records by Mario Lanza, at the age of 17 or 18 years old and he would listen to the Metropolitan Opera. If you listen to some of Elvis's later concerts you can hear some of that opera music coming through and the way he used his hands while singing also reminds me of opera.
On April 9, 1953, the Humes High Band presented its "Annual Minstrel" show in the Humes Auditorium. There were dancers, twirlers, xylophone trio, male quartets, band performances and comic turns. On the program sheet there were twenty-two acts listed, the sixteenth entry said, "Guitarist....Elvis Presley." Elvis wore a red flannel shirt and did not appear he knew what to do when he first got on stage. He just stood there for what seemed like a full minute, looked around at the audience from under hooded eyes, and then suddenly as if some kind of internal switch went on to say, "go now," launched into a song. Elvis said he was not popular at all in school until after this performance, suddenly he recalled it was amazing how popular he became after this performance.
He sang at the homeroom picnic at Overton Park while other students were playing games. Elvis sat by himself picking softly at his guitar. Then other students began gathering around. It was not the rock-in-roll type of music that made him so famous, but more like ballads. He sang his heart out teachers recalled.
He took Regis Vaughan, a fourteen-year-old freshman at Holy Name School, to the senior prom held at the Continental Ballroom in the Hotel Peabody. He met Regis at the Courts and started going with her the previous year. They generally double-dated with his cousin Gene out to a movie or out to the "Teen Canteen" overlooking McKellar Lake at Riverside Park. They attended the All-Night Gospel singings together and had a favorite song he sang just for her, which was "My Happiness." Regis recalled how Elvis never talked about becoming a singer after high school. He only talked about getting a job so he could buy his mother a house.
Elvis graduated high school June 3, 1953. Vernon and Gladys were visibly proud and Elvis was proud also to have graduated high school. They had his diploma framed and placed it in an honored spot in their home. His 1953 yearbook, the Herald, announced that everyone was reminded to not forget to go out to the "Silver Horse" on Union Avenue to hear the singing hillbillies; Elvis Presley, Albert Teague, Doris Wilburn, and Mary Ann Propst. On the morning of Elvis's graduation from high school he went down to the Tennessee Employment Security Office, where he got a job, starting the next day, at M. B. Parker Machinists' Shop not far from Humes High School making $33 per week.
Source: Last Train to Memphis, The Rise of Elvis Presley, by Peter Guralnick
Written by: Connie Limon, visit my website, a fan's journey through the past of Elvis Presley at http://smalldogs2.com/ElvisPresleyGraceland