Elvis at Three

Howard Finster (1916–2001)
Paint and ink on wood, 1990

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; purchase with funds from the Cousins Foundation, Inc., and donors to the Paradise Project Campaign

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When Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935, the Great Depression was ravaging the nation. His parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley, were among the poorest of the poor in Tupelo, Mississippi, where Vernon had great difficulty keeping steady employment. Gladys was very protective of her son, and when Vernon was sent to Parchman Penitentiary for forgery in 1938, the bond between Gladys and Elvis naturally increased. Vernon was released from prison the following year, but Tupelo had limited opportunities for the family, and they moved to Memphis in 1948.

Elvis began attending Humes High School in 1949 and graduated in 1953. He had always maintained an active interest in music—the blues, country, and especially gospel—and church, radio, and the live music scene of Beale Street fostered that experience as Elvis came of age in Memphis.

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