Elvis made northern debut 50 years ago in Brooklyn

6:02 PM, Oct 21, 2005   |    comments
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In 1955, young Elvis Presley was a hillbilly novelty act; opening shows for Johnny Cash and Slim Whitman. Cleveland was the first northern city to see Elvis, booked on country shows at the Circle Theater by DJ Tommy Edwards. "Tommy did a lot of country shows and, as you know, Elvis started as a hillbilly act," Chuck Rambaldo with Tommy Edwards Records says. And he might have stayed just a hillbilly act if he had not crossed paths with Cleveland's star-making disc jockey Bill Randle who would introduce Elvis to the nation on network television. Three months before the nation first saw Elvis, Brooklyn teenagers would see him at their new auditorium as Randle made his movie. "I remember the trucks, movie trucks outside on the circle there, [with] lighting. Cameras," Paul Smith of the class of ' 57 says. Those 1955 teenagers were excited that the top recording stars of the day were coming to their school. "I loved Pat Boone, probably most impressed with Bill Haley and the Comets," Pat Smith of the class of ' 50 says. But no one had ever heard of Elvis Presley. The high school guys that day thought he looked weird in his red-orange sports coat. Pat Boone thought he looked like a grease monkey. But when the girls walked home from school later that day. "The girls were saying ‘Wow, wasn't he something, wasn't he cute,” Joyce Harrison of the class of ' 59 says. “And I think that really started it.” Joyce still has the snapshot she took of Elvis that day, folded over from caring it in her wallet. The movie of what would become rock's "big bang" is lost. Randle died last year. His daughter says she's found no trace of it. Saturday night at the Brooklyn High auditorium they'll have a 50-year reunion concert to mark the anniversary, with Bill Haley's Comets, The Four Lads and others. Tickets are available at the door.

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