MEMPHIS — An acetate recording of the ballad “My Happiness,” the first song Elvis Presley ever recorded, sold at auction Thursday night for $300,000.
An undisclosed Internet buyer placed the winning bid at Graceland, the museum and tourist attraction that was Presley’s former home. The auction was held on what would have been the late singer’s 80th birthday.
The 78 rpm record, with its tattered yellow label, sold for $240,000. But the total buyer’s price includes a premium of 25 percent, or $60,000, that goes to the auction house, Graceland Auctions. Bidding for the record started at $50,000.
Other items in the auction included scarves worn by Presley at concerts, gold necklaces with the initials TCB (short for the slogan “Taking Care of Business”), prescription sunglasses made for Presley, and his first driver’s license.
But the big prize was the “My Happiness” record, which is highly valued because of its place in the career of Presley, who died in Memphis on Aug. 16, 1977. The acetate is in original condition and the record is playable.
Presley recorded the song in 1953 at Sun Records, the Memphis studio operated by Sam Phillips. Presley, then 18, paid $4 for the recording. As the story goes, Presley — whose family did not have a record player — left Sun and went to the home of friend Ed Leek to listen to it. But Presley left the record at Leek’s house.
Leek kept the record in a safe for six decades. After he and his wife died, their niece Lorisa Hilburn inherited it. Hilburn, of Rockledge, Florida, contacted Graceland, and it was offered for auction.
Hilburn said after the auction that she did not expect the record to sell for such a large amount. She has already “splurged” on an iPad, but plans to invest the rest of the $240,000, with some going to pay for college for her two sons.
“I’m very happy,” said Hilburn, who smiled widely after auctioneer Wendell Hanson banged his gavel and said “Sold!”
“There was adrenaline beforehand … but when it was over, I was numb,” she said. “It was surreal.”
Before he became the “King of Rock n’ Roll,” Presley was a shy young man who had moved to Memphis from Tupelo, Mississippi, with his parents. He liked to sing and one day summoned up the courage to walk into Sun Records.
Phillips was not there that day, so Presley was helped by Phillips’ assistant, Marion Keisker. Presley sang the ballads “My Happiness,” which was the A-side of the record, and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” which became side B. Both are slow-moving and stop short of suggesting a singer ready to help open the way for the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll.
After the record was cut, Keisker wrote down Presley’s name and phone number and jotted a note that said he was a good ballad singer. In 1954, Presley recorded the more up-tempo “That’s All Right” at Sun Records. That song became Presley’s first hit, and it catapulted him to a successful career that included hit songs such as “Hound Dog” and “Suspicious Minds,” and to making popular movies such as “Jailhouse Rock.”
The story about the “My Happiness” recording is told to visitors who take the tour of Sun Records, now a museum. Along with Presley, Phillips also recorded music legends Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins at Sun.
Jayne Ellen Brooks, public relations director at Sun, says the “My Happiness” record is important because it gives fans the first glimpse of Presley’s impressive talent.
“This was a pop ballad song done by female singers, so as far as the song choice goes, it’s really interesting,” Brook said. “It sort of sums up Elvis, pre-fame.”
Before the auction, fans of Presley gathered outside Graceland in sub-freezing temperatures for a cake-cutting ceremony. Priscilla Presley, who was married to the singer, and their daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, attended the morning event.
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