Saturday, April 9, 2016


On a recent road trip between Arkansas and Florida, I had the opportunity to visit several locations related to the Southern roots of several musical genres.  The most famous of these was the birthplace of Elvis Presley, in Tupelo, Mississippi ( ).

The shotgun-style home shown in this photo is where Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, to Vernon and Gladys Presley.  The two-room house was built by Elvis's father, grandfather, and uncle.  However, the family had to move out of the house when Elvis was just a few years old, because they could not make the payments due on the property.  Vernon and Gladys worked at various jobs while in Tupelo, and moved several times during the 13 years they resided in Mississippi. 

The city of Tupelo seems to be proud of the famous musician that put their town on the map, and they even had a cut-out of him, in the hotel lobby where I stayed. 

Elvis and his family attended a small Assembly of God church in Tupelo, and it has been moved, to be adjacent to the house where he was born.  This is where Elvis was first exposed to the gospel music, that later influenced his musical style throughout his career. 

The park has a bronze statue called "Elvis at 13".  There is a story about the guitar that locals says he carried with him all around town.  The story says that in 1946, Elvis and his mother went to Tupelo Hardware where Elvis wanted to purchase a .22 caliber rifle.  His mom persuaded Elvis to look at a guitar, which store employees allowed him to try out.  His mother bought it for him, and it was his church Pastor that taught him how to play it.  In 1948, Elvis played his guitar and sang a farewell tribute to his Tupelo junior high school classmates, before moving to Memphis, where his father hoped to make a better life for him family.  A short nine years later, Elvis , the performer, returned to do a benefit concert for the city of Tupelo.  A year later in 1957, he did another benefit concert in Tupelo to raise funds for a Youth Center and park.  The proceeds were used to purchase his birthplace and make a park for neighborhood children.  That original park has expanded to now include not only his birthplace, but also a museum, chapel, gift shop, statues, fountains, Walk of Life, automobile exhibit, theater, Story Wall, amphitheater, and outdoor entertainment venue. 

The photo above shows the inside of the chapel at the Birthplace Park.  Elvis dreamed of having a "Place of Meditation" at the Elvis Presley Birthplace Park.  Before his death he shared that dream with friend Janelle McComb, who envisioned adding a chapel to the park.  This was made a reality by donations from his fans.  It was dedicated in 1979, and serve as a venue for weddings and special services.  Notice the center panel of the stained glass windows depict him with his hands uplifted towards the Heavenly Crown and Christian Cross .
The Walk of Life is a scored concrete circle around the house, with dated blocks denoting each year of Elvis life from 1935 to the completed circle in 1977.  It allows fans to walk through every year of the life of Elvis, and reflect on memorable events of his life, as well as their own. 

Additional sculptures on the hill above the birthplace and museum depict the "grown up", famous Elvis with his magnificent performance wardrobe, towering over the "youngster Elvis", a humble boy, born during the Great Depression, and  growing up in poverty in the South. 

As Elvis was on his way to stardom, he (along with numerous other musicians trying to make it big), played at various venues up and down Highway 67.  This stretch of roadway was recently designated as the "Rock n' Roll Hwy. 67", and a place called Cavenaugh Park, in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, pays tribute to the historical significance of the area.  Notice the sculpture in the photo is in the shape of not only a U.S. Highway sign, but also a guitar, and that the park name is written on a structure designed to look like an audio speaker. 

This park site in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas is located adjacent to the original train depot, which is also along Highway 67.  The placard tells about famous musician and songwriter, Johnny Cash, who was born in Kingsland, Arkansas.  He grew up in Dyess, Arkansas, which is just a short distance from Walnut Ridge.  It is fitting that a church is in the background of his placard, since Johnny Cash was raised by his parents in the Southern Baptist denomination of Christianity.  In fact, he was baptized in 1944, in nearby Tyronza River, as a member of the Central Baptist Church, of Dyess, Arkansas.  After he became famous,  (with several very public instances of "bad behavior"), he rediscoverd his Christian faith at a small church in Nashville in 1968.  He went on to appear on stage, at several Billy Graham crusades.

"The Guitar Walk" Park in Walnut Ridge, is a 115 feet long and 40 feet wide guitar, based on a Beatles guitar, and was dedicated in 2012.  Very few people realize the Beatles connection with Walnut Ridge, but, in fact, Walnut Ridge is the only town in Arkansas that the famous singing group from Liverpool ever visited!  The fact that it was only a short visit---long enough to disembark from their plane that landed at the Walnut Ridge Airport, and then later board the plane that came to pick them up a few days later, has not kept the local Chamber of Commerce from taking their visit as a tag line for a major music festival they sponsor.  (The Beatles were on a secret "R & R" trip in 1964, to a dude ranch in nearby Southern Missouri, when the incident happened).  For more information on visiting this park in Walnut Ridge, or about the festival, log on to .

The original reason for this road trip was to attend a Road Scholar ( ) program in St. Augustine, Florida, that was going to teach the participants all about St. Augustine culture, architecture, history, and music.  It accomplished all these goals, and we were treated to music history lessons and demonstrations by the very talented musician, Gerald Brody,  shown in this photo. 

The return trip from Florida to Arkansas included an Easter Sunday  visit to the Maranatha Baptist Church ( ), in Plains, Georgia, to get to sit in on the Sunday School class taught by former U. S. President, Jimmy Carter.  (See the April 9, 2016, blog post called "President Jimmy Carter Expedition!" for details about that experience).  Perhaps because it was Easter Sunday, there were numerous Carter family members in the church services that morning, including Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy.  Since there were Carter family members singing in the choir, it is worth pointing out that Johnny Cash and Jimmy Carter were distant cousins!  This is because Johnny Cash married June Carter, who was related to the Carters of Plains, Georgia.  Seeing the important role that small churches of the Christian faith played in future development of some very famous people in the United States, makes me realize more than ever, the significant contribution of our Christian heritage to the success of several prominent people.  Therefore, I am using these images as my visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( ) memory verse that says, "Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."   I know that if I can keep my expeditions and travel plans committed to the LORD, I will have "MILES OF SMILES"!   Tricia