Long live the king

Hawaii has a rich history that includes royalty (unique for any state). It also has a special relationship with the King of Rock ‘n Roll. Elvis Presley still stands tall in paradise.

Two decades after his first big hit, Elvis made history with his Aloha from Hawaii performance. It was the first live satellite TV concert on January 14, 1973. At the time, it was a sort of come-back for Presley but it also was a magical match of his talent and the promotional imagination of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. According to Wikipedia, “It was the most watched broadcast by an inpidual entertainer in television history.” It certainly got my attention. The Beatles had been the objects of my teen infatuation; Elvis was the old-school crush of my aunts. Until that concert. I was most impressed with how he used his voice and body to relate to the crowd. He was in total control of every note and every gesture, eliciting sighs and screams from the audience with the twitch of a hip.

I think now, however, that I underestimated the influence of Hawaii in that audience interaction. Certainly, Elvis accepted the many, many lei offered by the audience, and tossed them a few silk scarves. But they were not only enthralled by the magic of his voice. Elvis had a much deeper relationship with Hawaii than I knew from watching the broadcast.

According to various media and online reports, the live broadcast was originally scheduled for November, 1972. Although the date later changed to January, 1973, Elvis still made good on several performances that had been scheduled for the fall. In January, he held rehearsals at the Hilton Hawaiian Village while the set was being prepared at what was then the Honolulu International Center Arena. Admission to the performance was free – people were asked to pay what they could and the proceeds were donated to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund, at the suggestion of a Honolulu newspaper writer and in honor of the Hawaii composer of “I’ll Remember You.” Those are the sorts of connections that Hawaii is made of, and certainly appreciated as much as Elvis’ talent.

I was impressed with the live satellite concert, and actually read the news of Elvis’ death on air as a young radio reporter (August 16, 1977). When I moved to Hawaii, I was enchanted to randomly encounter the statue in front of the arena where he made television history, now called the Neil Blaisdell Arena. However, I only just realized that the statue is a recent addition. It was unveiled in 2007, commemorating the 30th anniversary of his death. At the time, BBC quoted Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman as saying: “Elvis remains an idol and a hero to so many of us. From his film, Blue Hawaii, to his 1961 benefit performance to raise money for the USS Arizona Memorial to the historic concert which the sculpture commemorates. Hawaii considers him an adopted son.”

Each time I pass the Elvis statue, it is wearing fresh lei, symbols of the aloha Elvis and Hawaii continue to share.

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