Priscilla Presley

Priscilla Presley

There is probably no single person who has had as large an impact on Memphis, Tennessee than Elvis Presley. Sure, Kemmons Wilson founded Holiday Inn, Clarence Saunders revolutionized the grocery store, Fred Smith delivered absolutely, positively overnight. All huge, especially in terms of economic impact.

Then Elvis Presley launched rock ‘n’ roll… taking the rhythms of black music and creating a global, musical explosion… making a medium Mississippi River town famous in practically every country on the planet. The entire world sang the music that emanated from Memphis, Tennessee. But would that come to an end?

The bigger question – would the world, instead, come to the music?

Following Elvis’ death in 1977, his father Vernon Presley served as co-executor of the estate, along with Joe Hanks, the Presley family accountant. The estate at that time had dwindled to $8 million, formerly $22.5 million at the time of Colonel Tom Parker’s buyout. Following Vernon Presley’s death, Priscilla Presley became coexecutor, along with Memphis’ NBC bank and Elvis’ accountant. Elvis’ probate lawyer, Beecher Smith noted that the estate had very few liquid assets, and Graceland, its chief asset, was in fact a cash drain. With taxes due on the estate of over $500,000, and $500,000 annually in upkeep, the sale of Graceland was eminent. Priscilla Presley was subjected to intense pressure by legal advisors to sell the estate and pay off the taxes.

“We had attorneys and bankers and we had a meeting,” recalled Priscilla. “One of the attorneys said, ‘We are gonna have to sell Graceland,’ and I looked at him, and I never felt so strong on my conviction, and I said ‘That will never happen. We’re not selling Graceland.’ That’s when I went out to start searching for someone to help me, guide me, assist me, partner with me to save Graceland.”

Priscilla took on her new position as executrix of the Elvis Presley estate with a vengeance. “I do my research. I do what I have to do. I’ll talk to anybody I have to talk to before I make a decision.”

She had been working with a business mentor from Kansas City named Morgan Maxfield, who recommended to Priscilla to only open the house for six to eight months to secure proceeds to pay off the taxes. Maxfield employed a colleague by the name of Jack Soden, with whom Priscilla Presley formed a partnership to save Graceland. “There was a roomful of about 20 lawyers and accountants,” said Soden, “With the clock burning, and basically Priscilla was a singular voice saying ‘no.’ Their aggregate opinion was that the smart fiduciary thing was to sell everything and invest the money. Think what a disaster, in retrospect, that would have been.”

Presley and Soden met for breakfast at a hotel in Kansas City, with Soden scribbling notes for Graceland’s future on a place mat, brainstorming a strategy that would prove to have massive impact on the city of Memphis and its musical status.


Graceland opened to the public over 40 years ago, on June 7, 1982. The initial ticket was $5 for adults, $3 for children. Priscilla Presley examined other famous homes and museums, hired Jack Soden as CEO to preserve what we all know today as Graceland. Since opening in 1982, it has attracted over 22 million guests to Memphis, making it the second most visited residence in the U.S., and creating an economic impact of over $6 billion. The money which had to be invested to convert Graceland to a musical tourist attraction, $560,000, was earned within a month of its opening. She worked toward establishing Graceland as a National Historic Landmark and securing its inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. Forty-five years since the King’s death, and Graceland still stands today as the second most visited residence in the U.S. “It was easy to do the safe, conservative thing (in regards to Graceland’s future),” said Soden, “Her decision took a little more courage – it took a lot more courage, honestly – at that time.”

But it’s more about the music than the money, right?

Preserving Graceland and promoting it globally for the past 40 years has kept Memphis, Tennessee as the world’s preeminent rock ‘n’ roll Mecca. It’s impossible to discuss Memphis music without the branding impact of Graceland mansion. The music which emanated out of Memphis changed the planet. Curators with the Smithsonian Institution, when developing the exhibition for the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, would maintain that the world learned the English language by singing the lyrics of songs by Presley and others exploding out of Memphis. After Graceland was opened to the public in 1982, millions of tourists have followed their love of music to Memphis, and Graceland has served as the gateway to that experience. The answer to the earlier question… yes, the world would come to the music.

Memphis’ musical impact, and relevance, could to some degree be measured by the A-list musicians, a Who’s Who of world music, who consider Graceland to be the epicenter of American music their Mecca, their pilgrimage. Graceland keeps a partial listing of the musical giants who still recognize Memphis as the epicenter, and who have passed through its gates (and don’t forget about Bruce Springsteen scaling Graceland’s stone wall, while in town on concert).

Graceland’s economic impact on the city of Memphis, and on Memphis music, goes well beyond mansion tickets and Elvis souvenirs. “Memphis enjoys music tourism year round, with obvious swells occurring twice annually when Graceland celebrates Elvis’ birthday in January and Elvis Week in August,” says Kevin Kane, President and CEO of Memphis Tourism. “These people fill Beale Street, looking for live music. They visit our music attractions. They visit Rev. Green’s church. They bring their kids and grandkids generating a continued reverence and a bright future for Memphis music. They come to soak up all things Memphis and all things Memphis music, in addition to their pilgrimage to Graceland.”

Much like her friend (and Memphis Music Hall of Fame Inductee) George Klein, who spent his life promoting Memphis music through radio and television, Priscilla Presley found herself serving as an Ambassador for her former husband beyond his death, as well as for the city of Memphis (which she calls her hometown) and for Memphis music.

Over the past 40 years, Priscilla continues her own pilgrimage back to her hometown for almost every January birthday celebration and August Elvis Week at Graceland, personally greeting guests who attend events throughout the city and who make their way along that driveway on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Each year she serves as an Ambassador throughout the U.S. and to several countries annually promoting projects, opening exhibits, and speaking about the impact of Elvis. Throughout the past 40 years, she has visited with Elvis Fan Clubs in countries around the globe.

In 2015, Priscilla Presley served as Executive Producer of two number one albums recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. She fulfilled two of Elvis’ dreams which went unfulfilled – singing with a symphony orchestra and performing in England. She worked with the symphony to combine Elvis’ prerecorded vocals with live music of the musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The first, If I Can Dream, debuted at number one in the UK and broke Elvis’ personal UK record to give him his 12th number one album in the UK, selling 1.6 million copies worldwide the first year. One year later, she returned to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to produce a second album, The Wonder of You, which again debuted at number one and broke the previous album’s record, making it Elvis’ 13th number one album in the UK.

She didn’t stop there. She developed and promoted a concert tour throughout Great Britain with the RPO performing live with 75 musical arrangements created for orchestra, which accompany Elvis and his band, appearing via video projected on a huge screen. She also appeared at all 18 Elvis / RPO concerts throughout Great Britain. She has continued with the same concept, using Elvis performance video and local orchestras around the world, including Memphis’ FedExForum with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.

This year, with the release of Baz Luhrmann’s movie, “Elvis,” Priscilla has traveled to premiers in several cities, as well as The Cannes Film Festival and The Met Gala in New York; she traveled to Australia for the opening of an exhibition featuring 350 items from Graceland; she was at Graceland for Elvis’ birthday and for Elvis Week… and with more domestic and international travel in 2022, including a trip to Chile to work with the symphony orchestra there for a performance of Elvis songs accompanied by video.

What Others are Saying

  1. Elvis, Priscilla, Lisa Marie, and Graceland
    They will Forever be Remembered Together
    In Memphis, TN and
    The World of Music!!

  2. Graceland wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for Priscilla..Elvis is shining for all that she has done to keep his legacy alive..thank you so much for all that you have done !!♥️

    Sheila Johnson
  3. Priscilla has worked so hard to preserve everything to do with Elvis Presley. She deserves more credit than she gets. Priscilla should have been Elvis’ manager. love u priscilla

    shirley rollinson

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