When the King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley died suddenly on August 16, 1977, fans everywhere were still in shock. His funeral took place two days after his death, on August 18. While family and close friends were mourning the loss of their loved one, tens of thousands came to Memphis. Millions of people watched his funeral live on television from other places throughout the United States.
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In person, Elvis had one of the most highly attended celebrity funerals processions in the U.S., outside of politicians. Approximately 80,000 did for Elvis, descending on the small city of Memphis, Tennessee.
What Happened During Elvis Presley’s Funeral?
When your star shines as huge and bright as that of Elvis, your loss will affect people far and wide. According to news reports, so many people flocked to Memphis that President Jimmy Carter had 300 National Guard troops sent to the area to keep things in order.
But aside from a run on hotel rooms in and outside the city, there were few problems. A number of people fainted due to the Memphis summer heat, but that seemed to be the worst of it.
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Location and date
Elvis Presley’s funeral took place at his home Graceland, in Memphis, the place he felt the most at home.
Though he owned nine houses during his music and movie career, according to his first wife Priscilla Presley in an Express interview, “Behind the gates [of Graceland], he could just be who he was...He could enjoy life.”
Order of service
Thanks to Moments in Time, an auction house specializing in autographs and letters, you can currently see the actual sheet of paper with the original service arrangements for Elvis’ funeral, which was originally auctioned for $95,000 in 2014. The order of service and funeral was officiated by Reverend Rex Humbard, who was thought highly of by Elvis. His father Vernon asked him to officiate the funeral.
It is not surprising that music played a very important part in the funeral of Elvis, as six songs were performed by artists Presley loved. In fact, there were more songs performed than guests or ministers who spoke.
The eulogy was then given by Jackie Kahane, a comedian who opened for Elvis during the seven years before The King died. But he wasn’t just the funny man – he and Elvis had become close friends. Elvis’ manager, “Colonel Tom” Parker had asked him to deliver the eulogy.
Another church leader, Reverend C.W. Bradley spoke. Rev. Bradley was the minister at the Wooddale Church of Christ, which was Vernon’s church. One of Elvis’ favorite songs closed out the service.
The original funeral arrangements went as follows:
- The service began with a prayer officiated by Reverend Rex Humbard
- After the prayer, two songs were performed, “When It’s My Time,” and “Known Only to Him.”
- Eulogy delivered by Comedian Jackie Kahane.
- Another song, “How Great Thou Art,” was performed.
- Rev. Hubbard spoke again.
- Songs “My Heavenly Father” and “His Hand in Mine” were performed next.
- Reverend C.W. Bradley. Rev. Bradley was the minister at the Wooddale Church of Christ, which was Vernon’s church.
- One of Elvis’ favorite songs, “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” closed out the service.
Songs performed at Elvis’ funeral
Here is the list of the songs that were performed during Elvis’ funeral. The singers and some background information are also shared.
“When It’s My Time” – This was the first song of the service, and it was performed by Bill Blaize. Blaize is an American gospel singer who sang tenor as a member of JD Sumner and The Stamps. The band toured with Elvis, performing the background vocals. They also provided the background vocals on Elvis’ album “Promise Land.”
“Known Only to Him” – This song was performed by Jake Hess. According to Elvis Australia, he was one of Elvis’ “favorite singers and had a great influence on him.” Elvis was just a fan from afar. He attended his concerts back when he lived in Mississippi and would stick around afterward to ask Hess all sorts of questions about his start and style. Hess’ group, The Imperials, sang on Elvis’ “How Great Thou Art” album.
“How Great Thou Art” – They sang it on the album, and they sang it here. The Stamps performed this emotional song mid-way through the funeral service.
“My Heavenly Father” – Kathy Westmoreland had caught Elvis’ attention when she sang this song on a television show. She ended up touring with him as a background singer for seven years.
“His Hand in Mine” – The Stamps also performed this song. It was a late addition to the program.
“Sweet, Sweet Spirit” – This was the last song of the service, and The Stamps performed it as well. Elvis’ religious beliefs were very important to him, and this song was one that touched his heart. It was only fitting, therefore, that it was performed at his funeral.
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For the public
Because Elvis’ father, Vernon, understood the impact his son had on his fans, he decided to have a public viewing for their “King.” But even if he hadn’t been so generous, the fans still would have come. They were already there with more on the way. Thousands upon thousands of fans from across the United States and even different countries traveled to Memphis out of their love for the man and to say farewell.
On August 17, approximately 30,000 fans were allowed in through the gates of Graceland. For the public viewing, Elvis’ open casket was placed in the foyer for the fans to walk by and pay their last respects.
What Was Elvis Presley’s Burial Like?
Because a burial service for any person is limited to a small number of guests, that service of a celebrity the caliber of Elvis Presley could be said to begin with the funeral procession. It can be well after the event when people beyond the inner circle will have access to visit a famous person’s grave. Due to this, the procession is included here as part of Elvis’ burial.
The funeral procession
The white Cadillac hearse slowly made its way from Graceland and down Elvis Presley Blvd. to the Forest Hill Cemetery Midtown, followed by a line of 14 white Cadillacs limousines.
Fans who’d been standing or sitting along the street for hours now held up their homemade signs, expressing their love for The King. Approximately 80,000 people bore witness as Elvis was taken to Forest Hill Cemetery Midtown, where he was to rest in peace next to his mother.
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Service and location
A brief service took place inside the large, white-marble mausoleum inside Forest Hill, located at 1661 Elvis Presley Blvd. in Memphis, approximately 2.5 miles away from Graceland.
Vernon would be the last to leave the mausoleum after spending a private moment with his son.
Elvis was entombed in Forest Hill Cemetery’s first mausoleum (built in 1915) next to his mother, Gladys. They would not stay there for long.
But this was also not the first time Gladys would be moved after her death. Gladys was originally buried underground rather than entombed. Later she would be disinterred and placed in the mausoleum where Elvis would be placed two days after his death.
By the time Elvis was put to rest, the lawn in front of the cemetery’s large mausoleum was covered with thousands of flower arrangements and bouquets sent from all over the world. Vernon decided that the fans should have them and had it announced they could come back the next morning. Within just three hours, every last flower was cleared off the lawn.
As it can go with famous graves, in mere weeks, a dramatic situation arose. An attempt to steal the body of Elvis occurred at the end of August. Security measures were then put in place.
The following December, both Elvis and his mother, Gladys, were moved from Forest Lawn so they could be buried at Graceland in the Meditation Garden. They can now be safely visited by every guest who comes to Graceland, as the small cemetery is passed by at the end of the mansion tour.
The Legend of The King of Rock and Roll Lives On
As this year marks 43 years after his death, Elvis has been dead longer than he was alive. He was 42 when he died, and yet Elvis Presley is still a household name known around the world by people of all ages. Long live “The King.”
- “The Funeral of the King of Rock and Roll.” liveaboutdotcom, 26 December 2019, www.liveabout.com/details-of-elvis-presleys-funeral-2522426
- Mohr, Ian. “Elvis Presley’s Bible and funeral notes up for sale.” Page Six, New York Post, 11 July 2014. pagesix.com/2014/07/11/elvis-presleys-bible-and-funeral-notes-up-for-sale/
- “Up to 60,000 attend candlelight vigil at Graceland.” WREG Memphis News, 16 August 2017, wreg.com/news/up-to-60000-attend-candlelight-vigil-at-graceland/
- “Over 700 Elvis Presley Fans Gather at Graceland to Pay Tribute on 43-Year Anniversary of His Death.” People, 17 August 2020, people.com/music/elvis-presley-fans-gather-at-graceland-43-year-death-anniversary/
- “Elvis: ‘I still feel his spirit at Graceland, there’s a surreal energy’ Priscilla Presley.” Express, 30 December 2019, www.express.co.uk/entertainment/music/1222347/Elvis-spirit-Graceland-Priscilla-Presley-Elvis-grave-Elvis-death-Elvis-house
- “The Bible used by Rex Humbard to preside at Elvis’s Funeral.” Moments in Time, momentsintime.com/original-funeral-song-list-rex-humbard-funeral-bible-for-the-most-historical-funeral-in-entertainment-history/#.X6CJNC2z3jA