By Gary McKechnie
Although Elvis Presley and Memphis are forever linked, The King owes much of his success to a tragic event that happened in Florida.
Until 1956, although he had built up a reputation across the South, Elvis was still largely a regional artist. He had toured in Texas and played in Florida several times – notably at the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville, the Polk in Lakeland, and at the Homerly Hesterly Armory in Tampa where a photographer captured the shot used for the cover of his first album.
But in 1956 it was Heartbreak Hotel that helped to catapult Elvis into superstardom, and the song had a distinct Florida connection. The sad fact is that after a distraught man killed himself in a Miami hotel, the Miami Herald ran a story that detailed a line in his suicide note:
“I walk a lonely street.”
Well, that line caught the attention of Jacksonville’s Mae Boren Axton. In addition to teaching English at Dupont High School, she was a part-time songwriter and publicist and was the person who, following a Jacksonville show, introduced 19-year-old Elvis to the man who would make him a star: Tom Parker.
She thought of a hotel at the end of Lonely Street, where the bellhop’s tears keep flowing and the desk clerk’s dressed in black…
Working with co-writer Tommy Durden, the song was written in November 1955 and presented to Elvis at a music convention in Nashville. Recorded in January 1956, by May it was #1 across the nation.
Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel topped Billboard 's Top 100 chart for seven weeks, Cashbox 's pop singles chart for six weeks, was #1 on the Country and Western chart for 17 weeks, and became Elvis Presley's first million-seller.
In 1995 Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2004 Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" – the same year it made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”
6 Great Reasons to Visit Jacksonville
- 3 minute read
By Kara Franker Whether you're a foodie looking for freshly caught Florida seafood or an art aficionado who's into special events, these...
Architecture & History Walking Tour Through Downtown Jacksonville
- 2 minute read
By Hilda Mitrani It was the bridges that first intrigued me while driving through Jacksonville, considered the architectural gem of the South in the...
Discover the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville
- 2 minute read
By Carrie McLaren The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, located in the Riverside neighborhood just outside downtown Jacksonville, allows visitors to...
10 Arts Experts Pick Their Favorite Cultural Attractions in Florida
- 21 minute read
It’s always the season of the arts in Florida. Let these experts guide you to the cultural attractions, performers and places that distinguish...