An advertisement in the August 10, 1956 Florida Times-Union newspaper called Elvis Presley “Mr. Dynamite,” the “sensation of the nation,” and “the nation’s only atomic powered singer.”
Presley would soon be known simply as “the king of rock ‘n’ roll.”
During a pivotal point in Presley’s career, the future superstar did a series of performances throughout Florida. The tour came one month after his nationally televised appearance on the Steve Allen Show and one month before his first appearance before an audience of millions on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Five months before the 1956 Florida tour, Col. Tom Parker took over management of Presley’s career. The singer had enjoyed big hits with the songs “Heartbreak Hotel” and “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.” Just before his Florida concerts, Presley released his rock ‘n’ roll version of the Big Mama Thorton blues song “Hound Dog,” along with “Don’t Be Cruel.”
Parker organized an exhausting tour schedule for Presley. In just 9 days Presley performed 25 shows in 7 Florida cities.
The tour began in Miami with 7 shows at the Olympia Theater on August 3-4. The next day Presley did 2 shows at the Armory in Tampa, followed by 3 shows at the Polk Theater in Lakeland on August 6. On August 7, Presley performed 3 times at the Florida Theater in St. Petersburg, followed by 2 shows at Orlando’s Municipal Auditorium on August 8. The next day Presley was in Daytona Beach for 2 shows at the Peabody Auditorium. The tour concluded with 6 performances at Jacksonville’s Florida Theater, August 10-11.
The Tampa Sunday Tribune headline on August 12 declared, “Record 100,000 Paid tribute to Elvis in 1956 Florida Tour.” Tickets for the performances were $1.25 in advance, $1.50 at the door.
“No matter what newspaper you looked in you would find reports of near-riotous conditions prevailing when he was appearing in that town,” wrote Paul Wilder in the Tampa Sunday Tribune. “There is nothing in Florida entertainment to compare with him, and the startling impact of Presley’s sway over Florida’s teen-agers—and many adults, too—is something unique in the state’s social, economic, and entertainment life.”
Compared with the sexually suggestive choreography of some popular music stars today, Presley’s gyrating hips, shaking legs, and trademark sneer seem quaint.
In 1956, many found Presley’s movements onstage to be scandalous. The singer had been nicknamed “Elvis the Pelvis.”
“I don’t like to be called ‘Elvis the Pelvis,’ it’s one of the most childish expressions I’ve ever heard coming from an adult,” Presley told reporters backstage in Lakeland on August 6, 1956. “If they want to call me that, there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just have to accept it. You got to accept the good with the bad, the bad with the good.”
“I get in rhythm with the music and I jump around to it because I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m not trying to be vulgar. I’m not trying to sell any sex. I’m not trying to look vulgar and nasty. I just enjoy what I’m doing and I’m trying to make the best of it,” Presley said.
Before Presley’s shows in Jacksonville, Rev. Robert Gray of Trinity Baptist Church said that Presley had “achieved a new low in spiritual degeneracy.” Presley was insulted by the accusation, telling reporters “I was raised up in a little Assembly of God Church. I have gone to church since I could walk.”
Judge Marion Gooding threatened to have Presley arrested for “impairing the morals of minors” if he didn’t restrict his “suggestive” movements during the Jacksonville performances.
Presley remembered the incident during his 1968 television special.
“I was down in Florida,” Presley said. “The state police decided to come and film my show. I had to stand still, and all I could move was this little finger here.”
Judge Gooding was apparently satisfied with Presley’s modifications. After watching the show himself, Gooding allowed his three daughters to attend.
Presley’s whirlwind 1956 tour of Florida was covered by national press, helping to further the singer’s fame. When asked why he was becoming so popular, Presley said, “It’s all happened so fast. I don’t know what it is.”